Thursday, 22 September 2016

21 September 2016 | Nature Photography – telling a story | Adrian Davies ARPS FBIPP

Adrian Davies claims to have been one of the earliest users of a digital camera in the UK – over twenty years ago. He is certainly now a veritable master of digital photography. His nature photography images are truly stunning. He runs courses and gets commissions to take photographs all over the world. Adrian presented pictures from far flung places such as Borneo, Japan and Florida, but also, reassuringly for those with more limited budgets, there were amazing shots from Surrey and his own back garden in Epsom. From Oxshott Heath came a photo of the Starfish Fungus, or Anemone Stinkhorn, which is only found in that single location in the northern hemisphere!

He almost always uses a tripod, generally uses natural light, and prefers to capture his images in bright overcast light (to preserve detail and avoid burnt out highlights). Plants are the easiest things to photograph, he says, as, unlike animals, ‘they don’t run away’. You can also get closer to plants than to the 12-foot crocodile he showed us (for which he wisely used a 300 mm lens!). His macro photos gave us a whole new perspective on lichen. Adrian highlighted the importance of putting macro shots in context, giving a sense of comparative scale and overall habitat. 

As well as conventional photography, Adrian uses flat-bed scanners (at maximum resolution) to image flat (dead, of course) items, such as leaves and fossils. He also presented UV and infra red photos, taken on specially converted cameras. UV photography enables you to get some idea how other species see the world. Insects, for instance, apparently see ultra violet, blue, green and some red, whilst we humans only see red, green and blue. Adrian’s UV flower and plant photography revealed fascinating patterns, invisible to the human eye. A UV torch is an essential item, he said, if you’re hunting scorpions (as well as a long lens!). 

He is not really interested in producing single pictures for exhibition. He wants his pictures to tell a story, either as a sequence of shots or as a photo montage. It was interesting to hear not just about the technical aspects of the photos but also the stories illustrated by the photos. Scurvy grass, for instance, had spread from its original coastal habitats to roadside verges and central reservations, thanks to the amount of salt used on our roads – and there was a picture from beside the A3 to demonstrate this. It might not have won a camera club competition, but it helped tell the story. For those of us who enter such competitions, Adrian had a word of reassurance for anyone who has ever submitted close ups of insects and been slated by the judge: ‘I never get both antennae in focus!’

This is a brief interview I did with Adrian over coffee:         

Adrian Davies - Nature Photography- telling a story from Phil Richtea on Vimeo.

Friday, 16 September 2016


Our second club evening of the new season gave us the opportunity for some first-hand portrait photography under the expert guidance of Lee Townsend.

Lee is based in Croydon and runs the “Lenses of Croydon” meet up group and forum. He started the evening by giving members an overview of the forum and other photography opportunities in the area. It is fair to say he is a very busy person!

The evening proved to be most interesting with Lee providing many useful insights into an area of photography we see all around us every day but most of us do not get the opportunity to do in the controlled conditions made available to us on Wednesday.
There was a wealth of useful information about the range of equipment needed, their costs and, for those who wish to explore this area further, some valuable insights on where and what to buy. 9 members who brought their cameras had some time with our volunteer models for the night.

This gave Lee the chance to explain that the lighting set-up can be tailored to the camera settings rather than the other way round – something this writer found very interesting. Using a light meter – which Lee has had for 10 years or so (no need to keep updating as he pointed out) – the strength of the lights was controlled to match up to these settings:

Aperture: F9, Shutter speed: 1/160, ISO: 100.

The lights are controlled by wireless triggers fitted to the camera’s hot shoe. Strength of light was then altered to fit the above settings by taking reading of the light falling on the model.
The equipment brought along consisted of Elinchrom lighting kits and softboxes – used to diffuse the lighting and even it out across the target area of the model.

An interesting aspect with these lights is that they effectively act as flash guns operated by a wireless trigger. Lee was asked why these are set up like this and demonstrated that the flash is best for freezing motion, e.g. mid-jump, as well as being safer and cooler when not set at full strength.

Lee also stressed that, with the right flashgun/Speedlight on your camera, there is ample opportunity with a modern system to achieve acceptable portraits in the studio. One brand that many will not be familiar with is Yongnuo. Their flash equipment is compatible with all the major camera manufacturers but the costs are far less. Certainly, Lee was happy to promote them as a reliable make and a look at them on Amazon showed some good value equipment is out there.
Lee was a big advocate of seeking out equipment on Amazon plus scouring second-hand items on eBay and Gumtree.

Time was spent exploring the variables for different situations. The lights being used on the evening were set to daylight and Lee recommended that setting on the camera or AWB. An observation Lee offered at this point is that Nikon produces a “strong” colour in camera and some may wish to adjust before use. Plus it needs to be borne in mind that the image on the camera’s screen is going to viewed at the setting in the camera and not necessarily what you have taken the portrait at, especially if shot in RAW.

Among the tips demonstrated were “Clamshell” settings, which are used for model style photos. This involves setting the first light above the model and the second lighting kit at a lower level to balance and remove shadows on the face. In a similar style, when using lights on each side of the model, have one at a lower strength to even out the effect on the face.
Here, it is the “softbox” that comes into its own. These come in a variety of shapes and sizes and create different light shapes to affect the way light falls and its impact on a portrait.

Another item featured at length was a Reflector - vital for so many uses. These come is many shapes and sizes with the most common being round ones that can be compacted up to fit into a small bag. Lee’s cost just £12 and offered both the familiar silver panel as well as a soft white material that can be used to diffuse the light.

The final tips of the evening from Lee were to remember the basics, such as:
  •      Look at lots of photos and read lots of books…lots of them!
  •      Keep a file of favourite poses and use them again and again so you know what works for you.
  •      Take a look at the “Creative Live” website – especially the classes by Sue Bryce. This website has many portrait and posing tutorials for viewing - potentially free at the time of “live” transmission but then may involve a fee for viewing at a later date.

All in all, it was a useful and engaging introduction into this aspect of photography and it will be most interesting to see the work of those who took the opportunity to take the photographs on the night.

Brian Connolly

16th September 2016.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Putting a Key Line around a projected image

Our judge at the last PDI competition, Roger Mendham, made several interesting comments about the use of 'key lines' around projected images, and Mark tells me a few people were asking him how to do it. A few general points before I tell you the simplest way..

I remember one of the judges a year or two ago saying that you should always put a key line around PDIs.

This is nonsense. There are no rules in photography.

A key line holds in the edge of an image and helps 'contain' it. In effect, you are saying 'This is precisely the composition I have extracted from the real world and I want you to concentrate on it.'

However, you may not want to 'contain' the image like this. A good example was Mark's picture of the Aurora Borealis (Tempest) where the judge said the starry sky would have been ruined by a white key line. The night sky goes on and up to infinity so why box it in?

'Tempest' (by Mark). Click on the picture to see full size.

Remember that your image is projected against a black background and if you have dark areas near its edges, these may just dissolve into it. A white key line is not so important if a light area like the sky goes right to the edge. Note I have added an extra black border to the pictures on this Blog to give you a better idea of how they will look projected.

Key lines can be added very easily in Photoshop or Elements using the Stroke command. With this command you can add a line to any selection you make. The width (in pixels) can be set, and any colour can be used. Don't use black as it won't be visible against the background when projected.

Always add the key line AFTER you have resized the picture for projection. I have noticed on occasions that our projector seems to miss displaying the outer pixels in a full size image, so I would advise you to resize down to say 1022 pixels wide and 766 pixels high as a maximum, rather than 1024 x 768, to make sure the key line is displayed.

First decide what colour you want the key line and make sure the Foreground Colour is set to this. If you want to use a colour picked from the image itself, use the Eyedropper tool and click on the image there.

'Brimstone Butterfly in flight' by Mandy. (Click on the picture to see full size)

To place the line at the very edge, select the whole of the picture - Select/All in the drop-down menu, or use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl/A.

Next, in the Edit drop-down menu click Stroke. A Window opens giving you the  option to choose the width of the line in pixels. You can also select where the line is added, either Inside, Outside or Centred on the line. Choose Inside, then click OK.

Hit Ctrl/D to remove the marching ants and you will see the key line. View the image at 100% to see what it will look like projected.

It is a question of taste (and message) how thick you make the line. I tend to keep it to 1 or 2 pixels wide. Too thick and it can be a bit distracting and make the picture look like an EnPrint from Boots - but of course, that may be what you are aiming for.

Ask yourself whether the line improves what the picture is trying to say. Otherwise, it just distracts from your picture and is just an affectation.

Of course, there's no reason why you can't have a bit of fun with it.

'Escape velocity' (by Yours truly..)

Hopefully, at one of our demo evenings I will have a chance to demonstrate all this.

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who

'Just So Stories'   Rudyard Kipling

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Welcome back and our first PDI competition

Our new season's programme pitched straight in with the first of our PDI competitions - so 'Hello Everybody!', and we hope you all had a good summer and plenty of opportunities to exercise your shutter fingers.

Our judge, Roger Mendham from Bookham Camera Club, took note of the fact that we had a number of potential new members in the audience (welcome to them and good to see you!), and began with a pep talk on entering competitions. He said it's pretty scary the first time you enter, but if you want to improve your photography, do it. Look, listen and learn, and you will surprise yourself with what you can do. But as Mark said, entering the competitions is voluntary so if you are a newcomer, there's no pressure.

By way of explanation to newcomers, we have two levels in our competitions. Unlike most camera clubs where you have to 'graduate' to the more advanced levels, at PhotoCraft you can elect to go into whichever level you are comfortable with. Level 1 is better for people with less experience and the judge is asked to be a bit more lenient and aim to make his comments as constructive as possible. Level 2 entrants will be given a hard time, so don't enter at this level unless you are pretty confident or feel up to the challenge.

Congratulations to our winners and well done to everyone who entered. There were 8 entries given the top score of 10 which is a measure of the high overall standard of the pictures submitted.

At Level 1, the ten plus was awarded to Graham's 'Morning Shard'. Roger said he had seen so many attempts at photographing this edifice and this was one of the best. To get the right angle, Graham had to hang over the edge of the platform with an oncoming train (we all have to suffer for our art!).

The other 10 was given to Anna's 'The light at the end of the passage'. A tough shot to get the exposure right with good detail in the brightly lit and the shadow areas.

At Level 2, the ten plus went to David P's 'Lavender'. Undeserved surely against such stiff opposition at this Level (ahem!).

Two of Mandy's wildlife shots got 10s. 'Brimstone butterfly in flight' - tough enough to get anything in flight let alone a butterfly, and still sharp enough to see its curled proboscis.

'Hairy Dragonfly' was praised for so much of the creature being in focus, depth of field being so difficult to get right when working close.

Roger said he thought Mark's photo of the Lincoln Memorial 'Lincoln by Night' was a most dramatic rendering of this iconic building. Mark says this was his first attempt at HDR being a combination of three exposures. Good attempt Mark (try it on flowers..).

Contrary to popular belief, flower photography is difficult, especially if you want to try and bring something new in terms interest and composition. Dave S's 'Crocosmia' achieved both and also received a 10.

Using PhotoShop filters to turn a fairly mundane picture into a piece of 'photographic art' can be relatively easy to do so proceed with caution. Aodan used it to advantage creating a lovely blustery, autumnal atmosphere to his picture 'Autumn Lane' and received a well-deserved 10.

A great evening enjoyed by everyone.. the first of many to come.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

What makes a good black and white photo?

I hear that question a lot.

The more I think about it, the more I am convinced it's the Wrong Question. Try asking yourself the obverse question 'What makes a good colour photo?'. Isn't this an equally baffling question to give a straight answer to?

I think we all more or less know what makes a good photo, whether it's our own or somebody else's. Unfortunately, in good daylight, we all see the world in colour whether we want to or not. The problem we all have is disregarding the colour we see and trying to imagine the world in tones of grey. 

So the real question is 'How can we see in black and white?' 

Some of us old enough to have been weaned on black and white film learnt to do this to some extent just by practice, but it isn't easy. So here are some suggestions that might help. 

The great landscape photographer Ansel Adams (more of a US national institution than a photographer) recommended viewing the scene through a Wratten #90 dark amber filter. In fact, any colour filter will turn a scene to monochrome, albeit the colour of the filter. A 'Panchromatic Viewing Filter' used to be available for this purpose; maybe it still is. I believe it was yellow and the tonal rendering was supposed to be similar to how the scene would be recorded on panchromatic film. 

A better idea is using a screw-in colour filter on your camera. A red filter works like magic and, because it makes blues appear extra dark, the clouds seem to pop out of the sky. But don't forget to take the filter off before you take the picture. 

A well-known black and white photographer (who's name escapes me!) was asked how he was able to visualise his subjects in black and white and he said the easiest way he found was just to squint at it. Doing this reduces colour perception and the blurring effect takes out most of the detail making you more conscious of shapes, tones and overall composition. 

A digital camera makes seeing in black and white a whole lot easier. Just set the picture mode to black and white in the menu and use the Live View function. Take the picture again in full colour mode if you think you might need it. 

Let's clear up one area of possible confusion. In our club competitions and most other external competitions the rules define Monochrome as a picture in one colour only.  'Mono' (one), 'chrome' (colour) - geddit? At one time the club allowed split-toned black and white prints (a darkroom toning method that introduced two colours). This is easy to do in editing software but now you would have to enter it into an open class.

Using a single colour tone will help some pictures but be careful how you use it, and don't overdo it. A warm tone such as sepia works best when you want to inject a comforting or an 'old world' look to your picture. A cool or bluish tone can work well with pictures of ice and snow. The main thing is to choose a tone for a reason, not just a random colour to pretty the thing up. Having said that, when we visited the SPA Exhibition at Guildford recently, their wasn't a single monochrome picture selected that had been colour-toned. 

 A 'classical' black and white image has a full tonal range from black to paper-base white, with discernible details in both the shadows and in the highlight areas. Occasionally, a judge will not be favourably disposed towards anything else. Here are a couple of examples of the 'classical' style.
 Awaiting the tide - Mandy B
Your move - David P 

However, depending on the subject, a monochrome picture can also work in high key where there are no dark tones:
Snowdonia from Great Orme Head - David P

Or in high contrast, where some of the shadows are blocked up or the highlights blown out.

The highest contrast of all is an image with no grey tones at all - there are just two tones, black and white. The most beautiful examples I have seen of this kind of work are in a book I bought some years ago called 'High Contrast' by J. Seeley. They were made using lithographic film, a very high contrast film designed for reproducing script and diagrams. Similar effects can be produced using editing software. In PhotoShop, try the Threshold command in Image/Adjustments, moving the slider to get the effect you want.  Just bear in mind that it is risky putting this kind of thing into camera club competitions - 'old school' judges may not like it.
Biker Liverpool - David P

Congratulations to everyone who entered our monochrome competition last week, most of you making a pretty good fist of it. Special congratulations to the winning and highest scoring entries which will soon be appearing in the Internal Competitions section of the Photocraft website.

Friday, 12 February 2016

Photocraft By Night :-)

This week a group of intrepid Photocraft-ers took to the streets of Carshalton to try out our night photography skills. 

Cameras and tripods in hand, we not only braved the cold February conditions, but were also brave enough to put our cameras into manual (yes! manual!) to experiment with ISO, aperture and shutter speed in our search for that elusive combination which would give the best results.

The good news is that nobody fell into the ponds, which (thanks to the still weather conditions) provided us with some great reflections .. I'm sure we will be seeing a few examples of those in upcoming club competitions!

To stave-off the risk of frost-bite, a number of us then retired to the Greyhound pub for a well deserved warming drink!  All in all, a fun night out and a great opportunity to try our hand at something new: I for one am very tempted to pop back one night to have another go (remedying all the obvious mistakes that I can now see clearly in my downloaded images!).

For more tips on night photography, check out:

See you on Wednesday!


Sunday, 7 February 2016

PDI Competition No. 3

What a great evening and congratulations to all the winners. And there were some weren't there? Five tens in Level 1 must be some kind of record, and special congratulations to Christine A, and Chris H (awarded 10 for two photos), both new members. Some of us are going to have to watch our backs in future competitions, aren't we?
In Level 1, the 10+ went to Jeff Harmer for his superb shot of a racing dog called Low flying friend.

The other 10 was a very clever picture from Martin, Autumn reflections. It was the reflection of a tree, the image turned upside down so that its branches seemed bedecked by the leaves that were floating in the water.

Christine A was awarded 10 for a beautifully backlit leaf mosaic called Green Canopy.

Finally in this Level, Chris H received top marks for two candid and unselfconscious pictures of two children playing in his garden. Don criticised the title of one of them saying he couldn't see the boy was running, although to me, the little chap had Running  written into his facial expression. Concentration, his other portrait was an equally captivating image of a young lady in profile.

Don Morley awarded only three 10s at Level 2.
Dave S won two of them, the 10+ being awarded to a beautiful landscape Snowdonia. All about tonality and shapes with hardly any fine details, painterly in concept.

His other 10, equally atmospheric in its way, was of steam engines Simmering in the Sun.

Last but not least, Mandy was awarded 10 for Juvenile Starlings - Gotcha, the birds locked beak-to-beak apparently in mortal combat, one kicking the other in the chest.

David P was seen clutching a cushion and sobbing in the corner after his Selfie bombed with a score of just 5. Howard, bless him, put a hand on his shoulder and reminded him that having scored less than 7 1/2, he is entitled to put the picture in again. His little face brightened.
Remember, next week's meeting on 10th February is NOT at St Elpheges. We are meeting at the Cenotaph, Carshalton for an evening of night photography.