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

14 September 2016 - Portraits Evening


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.