Thursday, 10 February 2011

First Book Published on Blurb

I have just published my first book on Blurb. It’s been a project for a while now, but the past week or so, I finally put the finishing touches together. It’s basically an account of my experiences with nature, both at home in the UK and in Nepal back in 1994. As an added touch, I have also included a number of photographs.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Guide to Winter Photography

Slight underexposure, giving cold feel.
Winter photography can be quite challenging. The presence of large expanses of snow or frost is liable to confuse the metering system. In order to photograph winter scenes effectively, it is important to understand how the metering systems in most cameras work. The camera meter only “sees” in black and white (with a few recent exceptions) and it tries to set the exposure midpoint to 18% grey, which for many circumstances works well. However, when there are large expanses of whites or highlights, the meter will try to compensate by reducing the exposure, as it is programmed to record the scene as 18% grey to prevent overexposure. The reverse is true if there are large areas of darks and blacks. This is the reason that many snow scenes result in blue or grey snow, because the meter hasn’t recognised that the scene should contain lots of highlight areas (known as a high key image). Sometimes, a blue tinge is desirable for artistic reasons, but it is easy for it to seem like a mistake, even when it isn’t. Also, snow isn’t uniformly white, as it is rarely level, so there will be areas that should be in shadow, plus the flakes won’t fall in the same plane, so there will be variable light reflection from the snowflakes.
The effects of sunlight in a scene.
So how can we photograph snow scenes that aren’t underexposed, if the meter keeps adjusting? There are two main methods. Personally, I always use manual exposure settings and deliberately over-expose, but I recognise that not everyone is comfortable with manual exposure, particularly when the light is constantly changing. The alternative is to use exposure compensation. The precise method of setting exposure compensation will vary on the brand and maybe also the model of camera, but the principles are the same regardless. Nikon cameras also show the exposure reading in the opposite direction to other camera manufacturers, so check which side of the gradient is positive exposure and which negative. On Canon cameras, “zero” is in the centre, with negative exposure to the left and positive to the right. In an average scene (i.e. where there is alot of 18% grey), the meter will be in the centre without any compensation when the exposure is correct, if the meter is to the left, then it signifies under-exposure and the right over-exposure. Of course, in a scene with alot of snow, the meter should be pushed to the right, but the camera will set the exposure lower to centre the meter, which isn’t what we want. This is where positive exposure compensation is required, so in the camera’s exposure compensation section in the menu, the compensation needs to be set to the right (in Canon cameras) to increase the exposure relative to what the meter reads. But how much compensation is needed? This is where experience comes in, as different scenes will require slightly different settings. Generally though, 1-2 stops of positive compensation is a good starting point. In my experience, most scenes require around one and two thirds compensation, unless there is direct sunlight. Are there any dangers to using exposure compensation? The short answer to this question is yes, but it isn’t straightforward. The main consideration is the risk of overexposure. While you don’t want snow or ice to appear grey, you also need to be careful not to push the exposure too high, otherwise you risk losing the detail, particularly when you have areas of snow in shadow. You want to be able to distinguish between those shadow areas and the brighter areas, but if you overexpose, you risk losing the differentiation. Also, snow has texture, just like any other surface. Being able to see this texture adds to the interest and lifts the photo from the ordinary to make it stand out more. Direct sunlight, while adding interesting light, makes exposure more difficult, as it increases the risk of blown highlights. In scenes where areas of snow are being lit by the sun, then it is important to expose for those areas to prevent the risk of overexposure. This may put some areas in deeper shadow than you would like, but photography is full of compromises and in most cases it is possible to correct this in processing, provided the difference in exposure isn’t too great. If the areas of light and shadow are more defined, it may also be possible to use graduated filters to decrease the differences in exposure, just like you would with bright skies, but be careful not to overdo it, as you want to be able to see that there is a difference between snow lit by the sun and shadow areas. Some of us don’t get the chance for winter photography as often as we would like, so it is important to take the opportunities when they arise, to avoid the frustration of taking an amazing photo, only to get home and find it is dull and grey and not how you imagined at all. The key is to be prepared and to experiment, so that you can react to a scene with experience, rather than hoping for the best. While slight adjustments are possible when shooting in RAW, the more you need to adjust in processing the worse the outcome. Subtle is always best and in my experience, HDR photography doesn’t work well when snow is present. While this guide is for snow and ice, it can also be used for other scenes with alot of bright areas, such as water or other reflective surfaces or white birds or other wildlife. The principles can also be used for dark scenes, reversing the exposure compensation as required. Beyond anything else though, enjoy the chance to photograph the snow and be careful getting to your chosen locale. It may be useful to have chosen locales set up ready for when the cold weather arrives, so that long distance travel isn’t necessary.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Winter Set to Return

It's been an unusual winter so far in the UK. We often get cold weather (if not in the same league as parts of North America and Central and Eastern Europe), but this year has been unusual because it's been so cold, so early and for so long. The cold weather first hit last month and was deemed the earliest widespread snow for 17 years, although, we largely missed the snow, getting less than half an inch one night, althought parts of Somerset got much more. We certainly haven't missed the extreme cold and ice however, not to mention freezing fog on a couple of occasions. Over the next couple of days though, it seems we are likely to get heavy snow, as the cold waether returns after a few days respite (a balmy 7 or 8 Celsius).
Last Tuesday brought weather conditions I'd never seen before, even though we used to get much colder and snowier weather when I was a child, than in recent years. Although, I wasn't able to make full use of the conditions, due to a late parcel delivery, I was able to observe feeding birds in my back garden, including a robin (Erithacus rubecula) feeding on mealworms and hunting for other food in front of some Pyracantha berries, making for nice winter scenes. I also managed to photograph the hoar frost that slowly increased throughout the day, the first time I can remember seeing such a visible change in a short period. Every time I looked out, the crystals on the plants looked larger.
Over the coming days, I hope to photograph many more winter scenes, although the travel conditions are likely to limit the distance. I will also aim to produce a guide to winter photography, outlining some of the pitfalls and how to overcome them.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Photo Clusters of Guy Fawkes Carnival Carts Available

I have now created a number of photo clusters featuring some of the carts entered in the 2010 Somerset County Carnival circuit. They are aimed at performers who took part in the carnival, who would like a memento of their club's entries and will be available as either A3 or A4 prints, on high quality, heavyweight fine art paper. If you are interested and would like to know if your club's entry is available, please contact me, if you don't see anything suitable. They can be printed with or without a caption, according to preference. I will be adding further clusters to the gallery as I create them, so please drop back in to see other examples.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Glastonbury and Chilkwell Carnival

On Saturday it was the penultimate carnival in the Somerset County 2010 season. Having already attended Bridgwater in the rain and North Petherton, I decided to try something a bit different. I'm not a big people person when it comes to photography, so I tend to avoid them in my photos (perhaps why I concentrate on nature photography). This time though, I made a conscious effort to photograph groups of performers, as well as some individual performers. I didn't go for real closeup portraits, but tried to include them in the context of the carts thmselves. I also photographed some of the walking masqueraders, where the flash was essential, due to the lower light levels, and also some more detail shots.
The carnival itself was a success, with the rain holding off until the end (although people further along the route would have been affected by the weather much more). This season had seen a number of fires on carts, as well as some generator failures and even a model toppling onto one of the performers, but there was none of that at Glastonbury. On a more personal note, the photography also went well, with more shots I was happy enough with to upload, although the rain at the end pretty much ruined the shots of the last few carts. I've decided that flash photography in the rain doesn't work very well.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Bridgwater Carnival Photographs Available

Finally, I now have the photos from Bridgwater Carnival last Friday up on the website, available for viewing and for purchase as prints for any participants who would like a memento. Due to the weather conditions, almost all of them have streaks of heavy rain falling. There are also others, which require some work before they are of high enough quality to upload. I have also prepared the NOrth Petherton Carnival photographs, ready for upload. Again, there are others available, but I have witheld these due to the presence of teenagers at close range, to avoid any problems. If you were a walker and can't see yourself, please feel free to contact me to ask if there are any photos available.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Carnival Weekend

This weekend was the start of the Somerset County carnival circuit, starting with Bridgwater on Friday, before moving down the road to North Petherton last night. Even before the carnival started, things didn’t quite go to plan for me though. Even though, I’d charged all the flash batteries, two had actually failed, so there was only enough power to show the menus and not power the flash itself. So, resorting to plan B without flash, I waited for the first carts to arrive.

Runaway Train, overall winner by Gremlins
 The forecast had been for heavy rain and for once, the forecast was right. Just as the pre-procession passed and the first carts were appearing, the rain appeared right on queue. It had been light drizzle up to that point, but now it was a fullscale deluge. Had I still had the flash attached, it would actually have made keeping the camera even remotely dry impossible, as it was, it still got quite wet.

Despite the rain, only two carts had major technical problems, with one having to drop out entirely, just past where I was, so that it could go for repair. The other carried on in darkness.

Gargoyles by British Flag CC
Because of the flash problems the previous night, I decided to go to North Petherton Carnival, so that I could experiment and maybe get some shots that didn’t have streaks of rain throughout the image. As the night before though, just as the procession reached my point, the rain started. Luckily, it only lasted quarter of an hour or so and wasn’t anywhere near as heavy.

The rest of the night went without a hitch and all of the carts were operational, although some had lost banks of lights. I now have alot of editing and processing to do. Hopefully, I should get at least some ready later on today.