It changes every year, but the peak of the autumn colours, in the larger trees anyway, does seem to be about late October, but the first hints of the significant colour change do start to appear in early to mid-October. The massive oak tree in our garden produces acorns every 2-3 years, partly as it takes a lot of energy to make them and the tree needs a year off afterwards, but also because if it made them every year, the animals would get used to always eating them. Better to let the animals get used to lean years, so that some acorns do indeed survive, to grow in to oak trees again, of course!
I took these pictures about an hour before the sunset in that lovely orange early evening/late afternoon glow. I had taken photos of the large wood pigeons eating the acorns from the tree five years ago with a 70-300mm lens on a D7100, but these are much better quality on my 200-500mm f/5.6 on a D500. They don’t take the acorns on the ground, presumably to avoid the foxes, but go to acrobatic extremes to get them directly off the tree, and they then simply swallow them whole. I have shots of them from five years ago almost upside down trying to reach the acorns, but this one in the better orange light was more sedate – it was taken at 500mm, ISO 140, f/5.6 and 1/500s.
The second shot is simply of the changing colours, showing the whole transition from green to yellow to orange, taken at 400mm, ISO 110, f/5.6 and 1/320s.
This autumn is going to be especially good for colours due to the weather during spring and summer – so, I’ll be going to lots of woodland places to capture them all over the next month, or so.
While I was photographing Waterloo and Hungerford Bridges, I noticed that there was a stunning orange glow and massive series of reflections of the low sunlight in the buildings of the City, for about 10 minutes, at 30-45 minutes before the sunset. Clearly, at this time of year (it was just after the autumn equinox), the setting sun, exactly in the West, was reflecting off many North-South panes of glass directly back in to the West, where I was standing.
So, a few days later, I went up on to Waterloo Bridge itself and looked directly East towards Blackfriars Bridge and the City, hoping to capture the same effects again. It was just working out well when the setting sun became covered in hazy cloud and the effects were lost. Anyway, I stayed until 45 minutes after the sunset and caught some great images of the lights from the City reflecting in the waters of the Thames. You tend to always get the best shots about 30-45 minutes before the sunset, with the setting orange light, and then 30-45 minutes after the sunset when the sky still has some colour but the buildings are fully lit up. At 15-30 minutes before or after the sunset, both sets of effects are still good, but waning. And then, for that half-hour that is 0-15 minutes before and after the sunset, the light goes quite flat everywhere – I never get my best images in this 30-minute slot.
These two photos were framed by St Paul’s Cathedral on the left and The Shard on the right, both taken at 32mm on my 16-35mm f/4. The first was over an hour before the sunset, as I tried to investigate the best composition. There was a bit of reflection of sunlight on the right and the start of an orange glow, but as I say, the haze came along quickly afterwards. It was taken at ISO 64, f/11 and 1/60s, with no ND filters. The second shot was 40 minutes after the sunset, with the building light reflections really coming through powerfully – it was taken at ISO 64, f/10 and 25s.
I tried again a few days later, when the weather was predicted to be good enough again, but alas, the clouds came over for another time. I’ll have to wait until the vernal equinox now in March next year to try to capture the same stunning reflections again.
Another series of dusk shots over the River Thames, with this time the focus being on the Hungerford and Golden Jubilee Bridges, which I hadn’t photographed before. The best view was from the Victoria Embankment just east of Cleopatra’s Needle, looking SSW towards the London Eye. This captured the Royal Festival Hall on the left and just missed one of the Thames Tideway construction sites on the right, although it does just pick up Big Ben clad in scaffold. The week before when I was at Waterloo Bridge, it had been a very high tide at over 7m, while on this day the tide was very low at around 0.5m – all tides are different and give varying effects of the lights on the water, all eqaully dramatic.
This photo was taken 45 mins after the sunset, at 27mm on my 16-35mm f/4 at ISO 64, f/9 and 20s, with no ND filters. The sky was held back by just 0.2 stops in Lightroom, while the White Balance was at 5,500K. I corrected all the verticals too and then did a quick clean-up in Photoshop. As with Waterloo Bridge, I’ll photograph it again later in the winter when the sunset is in the SW, closer to the London Eye.
I went back to Waterloo Bridge at dusk last week – I had photographed it from the other side a few years ago, looking towards the City, but this time, I wanted to get the view towards Westminster. I set up on the NE corner of the bridge, just outside Somerset House on the Victoria Embankment. From here, I could get the London Eye in the background along with Hungerford Bridge (and the parallel Golden Jubilee Bridge). The view of the Houses of Parliament is not great at the moment as the Elizabeth Tower (Big Ben) is still clothed in scaffolding - so, I obscured that scene behind the bridge itself. You can see the two towers of Westminster Abbey though in the distance, under its own floodlights. Waterloo is one of the four bridges due to be re-lit with new lighting next Spring, along with Blackfriars, Hungerford and Westminster, but this shot looked promising still, with the autumnal sun setting directly in the West (it was the equinox) and the crescent moon also setting close by.
I’ve already uploaded 8 images to Alamy for sale, but this one was a nice summary, with enough orange light still in the sky, the crescent moon, the building lights on, and good light trails both on the river and on the bridge itself. There were a huge number of red London buses on the bridge, which made those trails very easy to capture, although the river traffic was much sparser than normal. Anyway, this picture was taken 40 mins after the sunset, at 26mm on my 16-35mm f/4 at ISO 64, f/10 and 20s, with no ND filters. I still held the sky back by 0.7 stops in Lightroom and adjusted the White Balance to 7,000K. I also corrected the verticals to get all the buildings aligned and then did a quick clean-up of unwanted signs, logos and assorted rubbish in Photoshop. I’ll photograph the scene again later in the winter when the sunset is in the SW, closer to the London Eye.
On the same day, about an hour later, the rising sun was just starting to hit the rolling surf coming in to Little Fistral and Nun Cove, just to the north of the main Fistral Beach. It was a lovely scene with the first glimmers of orange light on the rocks, on the breaking waves and on the side of Towan Head in the distance. This panorama was taken at 19mm on my 16-35mm f/4 at ISO 64, f/11 and 1/40s. Besides the usual adjustments in Lightroom, I also held the sky back by 0.8 stops, using the Luminance Mask to adjust only the brighter areas of sky.
We had a fabulous long weekend down in Cornwall two weeks ago for our daughter’s 21st birthday – a bit strange with masks and social distancing, but great family, great location, great hotel, great food and great surfing!
Up at dawn one morning, I captured the waning crescent Moon, with Venus too, almost exactly at the time of the 6.55am sunrise. Wonderful oranges around the sunrise over the Headland Hotel, with reds in the clouds around the Moon and Venus. This one was taken at 42mm on my 24-70mm f/2.8 at ISO 64, f/11 and 1/15s.
I took another series of images across the River Thames at dusk last week – this particular one was taken 35 minutes after sunset. As noted below, the Millennium Bridge now has new lighting – it’s just a beating set of variable white lights though, which means that it doesn’t really stand out against the backdrop of other buildings or lights on the water. But, still a nice photo with the building lights, the boat trails and calmness of the river – the newly-lit Southwark Bridge on the right-hand side too.
I’ll go again in a few weeks to try and get some closer shots, still with St Paul’s Cathedral in the background, but with the bridge silhouetted against the darkening sky, to show off its lights better.
Anyway, this one was taken at 19mm on my 16-35mm f/4 at ISO 64, f/10 and 25s, with no ND filters. I also held the sky back by 0.4 stop with a Luminance Mask in Lightroom and adjusted the White Balance this time to 9,500K, as lower values were looking very blue. I also corrected the verticals to get all the buildings nicely aligned. As always then, a quick clean-up of unwanted signs, logos and assorted rubbish in Photoshop, mainly with the wonderful Clone Stamp Tool – all ready for submission to Alamy. My dusk shots over the Thames or at other central London landmarks are one of my best sellers on Alamy - so, besides being very enjoyable, it’s definitely worth the effort.
With it being a little easier to get around on the tube (for now, anyway!), I’m getting back to some normality by taking more of my regular set of pictures down by the Thames at dusk. You have to select the locations carefully to get a good background shot of buildings for each of the more photogenic bridges. The timing of the sunset then comes in to play, but predominantly it’s the weather that drives the shoot. The state of the tide is then anyone’s guess, but fortunately, the low tide images are just as interesting as the higher tides.
This current focus on Southwark Bridge, which I have done before, is that four of these eastern bridges have now been re-lit – London Bridge, Canon Street Bridge, Southwark Bridge and the Millennium Bridge. I don’t like the surroundings around London and Canon Street, but Southwark and the Millennium can, of course, have St Paul’s Cathedral very prominently placed.
Sunset was at about 7pm and so I did my usual trick of turning up about an hour beforehand and staying about an hour afterwards. To get the long exposures that I wanted (10-30s), at good apertures (f/11-f/18) and my native ISO 64, you need to use ND filters. I start off with a 10-stop and then gradually drop to a 5-stop, then a 2-stop and then nothing, once it is getting darker and close to the end of the session.
With the variable new lighting on the bridge, the most spectacular images were indeed towards the end, about 45-60 minutes after sunset. Here, there is still some orange light left in the westward sky, but the street, bridge and building lights are fully on. There weren’t that many buses on the bridge and even fewer boats on the water, but with careful timing, you can get some really nice light trails, to mix with the impressionistic reflections on the river itself.
These two photos were taken on my D810 at 25mm on my 16-35mm f/4 at ISO 64, f/11 and 20s, with no filters. Besides the usual settings in Lightroom, I held the sky back by 0.5 stop with a Luminance Mask and adjusted the White Balance to 6,500K. Finally, a quick clean-up of unwanted signs and logos in Photoshop, and all done, ready for sale on Alamy!
And, another shot from a later day - same Abelia x grandiflora 'Compacta', different bumble bee, presumably ?
Also taken, as before, at f/25, ISO 64 and 1/250s with twin flash.
As noted below in the blog about my 105mm f/2.8 macro lens, this image now also includes some interesting wildlife - bumble bees on an Abelia x grandiflora ‘Compacta’. You cannot follow the insects around, as the DoF is so small and the flash set-up is quite delicately balanced too. So, you have to set up on a particular flower and then simply wait for a suitable insect to come along – this takes time!
Here, the focus distance was about 450mm, not too close as you cannot be sure exactly where the insect will land – strangely, some feast inside the flower heads while others seem to sit on top of the flower, presumably using different techniques to reach the nectar. It’s best therefore to pull out a bit in order to capture a wider image and then crop later during processing. At this focus distance, the DoF is 12mm at f/22 and 18mm at f/32 – I selected f/25, to maximise the DoF while not getting too much diffraction. At f/25, the DoF is 14mm, just enough to capture the key elements of the bee, if all goes well!
Otherwise, the images were both taken at ISO 64 and 1/250s, with twin flash – one at 1/2 power and one at 1/4 power. The Speedlights were a little further away than usual, which is the reason that I had to increase the power from 1/4 and 1/8, to 1/2 and 1/4. At these flash powers, the flash duration is 1/1,200s to 1/3,000s, i.e. much faster than the shutter and easily able to freeze any wind or insect movements.
The detail on the full-size images is great, with not only every hair on their bodies visible and sharp, but every hair on their legs too.
The Depth of Field (DoF) of my 105mm f/2.8 macro is much less than the normal tables for DoF suggest – there are a different set of calculations for DoF with high magnifications. For focus distances above about 600mm (magnification only 1:4), the results are about OK, but as you get closer to the 314mm limit (magnification of 1:1), the real DoF is 2-3 times smaller. For example, at the 1:1 peak at f/22, the real DoF is 3mm, not the 8mm calculated from typical tables. Without the fuss of focus stacking therefore, you have to be very careful with your focus selection, unless you want to move out and crop! Typically, f/16 will not give enough DoF, while the f/32 limit gives around twice the amount, but at the expense of some diffraction softness – so, f/22 seems a good compromise giving the optimum DoF with only a limited amount of softness. Better to have more DoF with some softness, than less (that also looks soft, of course!) with more sharpness – in reality, I’m finding it’s best to use f/22-25.
If you have still objects, then you can select your aperture to give you enough DoF at your chosen focus distance, use ISO 64 for best quality and then use the shutter speed to suit. Depending on the light, you’ll end up with shutter speeds up to several seconds, which are fine, using natural light alone. Once you have moving objects though (flowers in the wind or insects, or both), the parameters change, as you can’t use slow speeds. You also can’t increase the aperture without compromising DoF (of which you have precious little already) and you can’t up the ISO without losing quality – so, you have to use flash. The preferred setting of f/22, 1/250s & ISO 64 suits a light level around EV 17, already two stops brighter than a sunny day – you’ll need flash therefore on those days, never mind when it’s shady at EV 10, or less.
The flash set up is very similar to all the best portraits, i.e. two Speedlights at about 45o to the side and 45o up, positioned around 200mm away. Ideally, small soft-boxes should be used too, but I find that the dome diffuser (designed for bounce flash, I know) works very well, to just soften the light enough. I put one of the Speedlights as a key light at about 1/4 power, with the other as an infill light at 1/8 power.
These two images, a pink/purple Anemone hupehensis var. japonica ‘Rotkappchen’ and an orange Geum chiloense ‘Mrs J Bradshaw’, were both taken at f/22, 1/250s & ISO 64, with twin flash.
Next step, with some interesting insects too ……
Having struggled without a proper macro lens for months, and realising that it’s a good medium and one with which I’ll work more in the future, I went out and bought a real macro lens! I got the wonderful Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8, from Grays of Westminster, as usual. It’s a true macro lens able to produce life-size images at 1:1 when focussed at 314mm, which leaves a working distance in front of the lens of about 150mm. The main advantage over my 50mm f/1.4 is not so much quality (as both are superb over most apertures) as the size of the image – I can now produce 36MP pictures without any cropping as opposed to my previous photos all needing to be cropped down to 6-10MP in order to fill the frame. This produces much more appealing images when selling them on Alamy, as the larger size gives purchasers more flexibility. You can, of course, still print a very high quality (300dpi) photo at A4 size from a 6MP image. But at 36MP, it can be A2 (300dpi), A1 (200 dpi) or even A0 (150dpi) and still look excellent.
This first picture was taken as described in the blog below at a focus distance of 500mm and at f/3.2, 1/250s & ISO 80, while the second was closer at 400mm and f/4, 1/160s & ISO 250. The Depth of Field (DoF) on the water surface was only about 2mm! This needs great care but is absolutely fine once you get the camera perpendicular to the plane of the water, use LV and then the AF-ON button to focus. You also have to focus on the bubble, not what might be refracted within the bubble - as that's a different shot altogether.
My next set of shots will start to push the limits of the macro more by focussing closer at more unusual (and living, moving) subjects. At a 500mm focus distance, the magnification is only 1:3, whereas the lens gets to its 1:1 peak at 314mm – here, the DoF is then tiny (<1mm wide open and still only 4mm at f/32) and the techniques become all the more challenging!
Some more local landscape/wildlife locations are opening up now for me, but many are still closed – none are the wonders of Iceland though, from where we should just have come back! So, I’m still doing studio work at home - my latest project is water and oil abstracts; playing around with light and bokeh. Again, not something that I had done before, needing lots of experimentation.
I don’t have a macro lens and therefore can only use my 50mm f/1.4 prime again, which can focus down to 450mm. My fabulous 24-70mm f/2.8 focusses down to 380mm at 50mm, but can be a little soft at f/2.8. And, being wide open is the real key to these images – it’s all about getting the oil drops on the water surface really sharp, with the background being out of focus, with great bokeh. I had a glass dish of water held about 0.5m above the floor, while on the floor I placed an assorted array of colourful objects (mainly fruit and veg initially!). These objects go out of focus and provide the coloured lighting to the oil, which is dropped on to the water surface.
The best range of apertures is f/2.0-2.8. Not too wide to avoid softness but wide enough to get good bokeh. The shutter speed only needs to be enough to freeze any slight movement of the oil drops – I found 1/160-1/200s worked well. With these settings, by a reasonably bright window (EV 10), the ISO comes out at 100-160, which is fine. You don’t need any flash as the aperture is already 5 stops wider than a normal sunny day (EV 15). I did find though that a regular house lamp and a reflector helped to get some more interesting light on to the background, and therefore on to the oil drops.
In general, I used f/2.5, 1/160s and ISO 125. The Depth of Field was then only 10mm! I therefore had to carefully focus with the AF-ON button on the oil drops, which was generally fine, although some shots did go astray. In the end, I switched to Live View (LV), which I have never needed to use before, as it’s not required for all my other photos. It does work superbly well though – you simply switch to LV, zoom right in on the oil drop, focus with the AF-ON button and bingo! Precise focus every time – on a tripod, of course.
These first two images are from my first session – I have taken many other different versions since, and will gradually add them to another section of my Abstract Portfolio, as well as making them available for sale on Alamy.
A couple more images from these series of lockdown sessions (in lieu of being in Iceland !). Both using the same techniques as below, but with a little more control of the waterdrop in a wine glass, I could reduce the DoF a tad and use ISO 125 and f/13 instead. My Abstract portfolio has a wider selection of these photos as well now.
Well, we should have been in Iceland now, with two weeks driving around the whole island – sadly not! We will probably delay the visit to September, but given how dreadful our mendacious, lazy, dim-witted, incompetent and ineffectual government is at dealing with absolutely everything, it looks like we might well have another peak around that time, or the first peak might never quite go away. So, we might actually have to wait until June 2021 – besides family and friends, of course, we’re desperate to see gushing waterfalls and wide, dramatic landscapes again.
Anyway, back in my studio for the smaller waterfalls! Like the close-ups of flowers, taking photos of falling water drops is very similar, in that you set the aperture to f/11-16 to get enough depth of field (DoF), the ISO to 64-200 for best image quality and the shutter to 1/320s, which kills off the ambient light. The key difference is the speed, which is not achieved by using the shutter, but by utilising a very short burst of flash light. My Nikon Speedlights have a flash duration at full power of 1/1,000s but at 1/128 power, this reduces to an incredible 1/40,000s, i.e. way faster than any shutter. This will freeze anything instantly – water droplets can be captured in a myriad of dramatic forms, none of which the eye can see.
Once you have this low power, the Speedlights need to be very close. Given the DoF and speed requirements, the only ways left to control the light are the ISO and the flash distance. With two Speedlights placed about 250mm away, the set-up worked with an ISO of 100-200. I had to play around with the Speedlight zoom and illumination pattern settings for a while to get a nice even and symmetrical light.
I used the same 50mm f/1.4 prime lens – at its closest focus of 450mm, you get a DoF of 50mm at f/11 & 75mm at f/16, but at those apertures you need an ISO of 100 or 200. Anyway, the best overall option was to use f/14 & ISO 160, giving about 65mm in focus. It is still tricky to get the water drop in the right location – it takes dozens of attempts to get one shot that both looks good and is nicely in focus at its heart. Most shots were also cropped down to get a big enough image to fill the frame, but with 36MP to play with, I have no issues on my D810, as long as I stay above the 6MP limit for sale at Alamy. Even at this limit, you can still print in high-quality (300dpi) at A4 size.
These two images are the best so far, but you can see others in my Abstract portfolio, some from 2017 and some more recent ones.
So, my first experiment with taking flower close-ups in lockdown has been pretty successful – I’ve taken over 500 photos, of which about 100 have become 5-stars, most of which I have already uploaded for sale at Alamy. Not bad for an area that I have never really considered seriously before! One last experiment was with double exposures, also not something that I have tried previously. Here, you take a normal shot of a flower head and then a second image at exactly the same settings but with the focus thrown out (by enough, but not too much) – both on a tripod, of course. These two were taken at 160mm on the 70-200mm f/4, ISO 160, f/16 & 1/160s with twin Speedlights in a Rembrandt set-up.
After the usual amendments in Lightroom, you then blend the two images together in Photoshop. Most of the recommendations on the internet said to position the blurred image on top of the sharp one, but this make no sense to me - the slightly better (and more logical) version was definitely with the sharp image on top. There are lots of blend modes in Photoshop, but the Normal one works best for me – you then play with the opacity of the top sharp layer to achieve the optimum result, generally at around 40-60%. Both the original sharp image and the double exposure version are shown here.
It doesn’t work with lots of images, but does really suit a single large flower head, such as this Allium hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’ – a classic at this time of year and a regular favourite at the Chelsea Flower Show. This time last year, Jilayne was busy on her Chelsea garden design for the wonderful charity CAMFED, winning not only a Gold Medal but also the People’s Choice Award – stunningly excellent for a first time at any flower show!
And, another batch from later sessions in the garden, following the same techniques described below, with a dose of twin flash infill. The wonderful red Peony, which only lasts a few days - Paeonia 'Buckeye Belle' taken at 150mm, ISO 200, f/16 & 1/125s and a group of three pink tulips - should be Tulipa 'Pink Diamond' but they seem to have got slightly mixed with another white tulip (!) - taken at 150mm, ISO 160, f/16 & 1/160s. More also now added to my Gardens - Seasons portfolio.
After concentrating on the studio portraits of the garden (see previous blogs), I did the same outside, well almost the same! The advantage in the studio is that you can control the subject very well, in terms of its position, its magnification, the lighting and the background. Outside, you have wind, insects, other plants, more difficult access, a variable background and different lighting options.
As you generally cannot get as close, I opted for my 70-200mm f/4 lens. For the same magnification, you get the same Depth of Field (DoF) – so, the DoF that I wanted of my 50mm lens at a 0.5m distance (i.e. 75mm at f/16), can also be attained with a 100mm focal length at 1.0m or a 200mm at 2.0m. This worked well for virtually all my images – there’s no visible diffraction at all on my D810 and therefore no need to focus stack. On a couple of shots, I did blend two images in Photoshop though to get the whole group in focus.
The main issue is the lighting. Even in bright conditions (“sunny 16” or EV 15), you can only use ISO 64, f/16 & 1/80s if there’s little wind. Otherwise, you have to switch to ISO 200, f/16 & 1/250s, which is still fine on my D810. With any amount of shade though, which is common (and a nicer feel), you simply run out of light (unless you regularly focus stack everything or accept a poorer quality ISO). So, some fill flash is almost essential. If you use the same settings as in the studio (ISO 64, f/16 & 1/320s), the ambient light gets killed almost completely, giving a black background and the flash only lighting the immediate area of the flower, i.e. there’s no point in being outside!
The better option is to open up the camera settings a tad all round, to still get some ambient light, and to then provide a good dose of flash to light the main subject (and a bit of the background). The best ranges seem to be ISO 64-250, f/14-16 & 1/125-1/200s, depending on the exact level of shade. I use the same “Rembrandt” lighting as in my studio shots (or classic portrait images), i.e. two Speedlights to the side of the camera, one high key light and one lower infill light at half the power of the key light. You can experiment with the flash power and distance to get the desired effects.
These two images are a lovely group of three yellow Welsh Poppies (Meconopsis cambrica aka Papaver cambricum) taken at 150mm, ISO 160, f/16 & 1/125s and an overhead shot of an Aquilegia vulgaris (variety unknown, as it has self-seeded from others!) taken at 100mm, ISO 100, f/14 & 1/125s.
And, another two from my later session in the studio - a delicate Aquilegia vulgaris (Jilayne's not sure of the variety as quite a few of these Aquilegia have now self-seeded!) and an impressive standard of Iris sibirica. Both taken as described in the blog below. I've now also put 12 of these images in my Gardens - Seasons portfolio, as well as uploaded them, plus quite a few others, for sale on Alamy. Now working on the processing of a set of similar close-ups taken outside, in-situ, in the garden itself - stay tuned.
Well, lockdown has changed pretty much everything! Photographically, there are no landscapes or cityscapes anymore – just what’s in the house and garden. Our trip to Iceland in June is scuppered too, although we can hopefully delay it to September, before it gets too cold and dark there!
I have never really taken many garden close-ups, as I prefer wider shots, but having sold a few images of individual flowers recently on Alamy, I decided to try and increase my stock of these types of picture. First plan was to work on studio shots inside. These are very similar to classic portraits with a twin Speedlight set-up, 450 to the side and 450 upwards too. To get close enough I used my 50mm f/1.4 prime lens at its closest focus distance of about 0.5m. A large flower will almost fill the 36MP frame of my D810 while a smaller one will need to be cropped, which is fine as long as I keep the size above the 6MP limit that Alamy allow. At this magnification, the Depth of Field is very small – only 50mm at f/11 or 75mm at f/16 – I used f/16 to maximise the focus around the whole flower.
I then used my native ISO 64 and the synchronised flash shutter speed of 1/320s to kill off the ambient light, which makes the background almost black. It does depend on how close the background is to the flower – the closer it is, the more the flash lights the background, whereas the further away it is, the more the background goes black. I placed the two flashes at about 0.5m away, using one as a key light at about 1/4 power and the other as an infill light at about 1/8 power. Then I sprayed some water droplets on the flower to give it a more natural feel, and glisten.
Anyway, after all that set-up, these are two from the first session – a lovely orange Geum chiloense ‘Mrs J Bradshaw’ and a white Geranium macrorrhizum 'Album'. Thankfully Jilayne (being a professional SGD garden designer) knows the proper Latin binomials of everything. Thank goodness for Carl Linnaeus! Next plan is to do the same outside, which is looking promising, as the weather is so good still and the garden is getting to its peak time in full spring bloom. You can see more in my Gardens - Seasons portfolio.
There was actually another evening when the setting sun popped through the clouds for a brief few moments! This image was taken at 5.40pm, about 15 minutes before the actual sunset, using 58mm, ISO 64, f/11 and 1/15s. The chair lift is the Monte Flu-Bahn while the main peak on its right is Seekareck at 2,217m. Obertauern itself sits at about 1,750m – so it always has snow, even during a mild European winter, such as the one we have just had. It definitely wasn’t mild last week though, with -100C at night and -50C during the day, and it snowing the whole time, it seemed! As before, I held the sky back on a Luminance Mask by 0.7 stops but used a lower White Balance of 9,000K. Within 20 minutes though, it was all gone – back to solid cloud cover again!
It was a very snowy week in the Austrian alps, with 10-15cm falling every day. Not great for skiing, as we prefer nice clean, freshly-bashed pistes, whereas lots of new snow produces huge moguls very quickly – much more difficult to ski, for us anyway. There was also therefore a dearth of sunlight and good sunsets, except on this day, when the sun just about broke through the stormy clouds.
This first picture was taken just before the sunset, at about 6pm. The sky quickly turned from yellow to orange, but never quite made it to those lovely reds. I only had my 24-120mm f/4 with me and used this on my D810 at 100mm, ISO 64, f/11 and 1/15s, on a tripod, of course. In Lightroom, I held the sky back on a Luminance Mask by 0.7 stops and used a White Balance of 12,000K, not to boost the oranges much, but mainly to get rid of the blues in the mountain snow.
The second image was three hours later with the lights of the town on and the brilliant starburst from a piste-basher just coming over the peak. This was taken at 50mm, ISO 200, f/11 and 20s – it was a couple of stops darker than many of my usual dusk shots of cities, which is why I had to open up the ISO to 200, in preference to increasing the time or the aperture. The best overall White Balance had now dropped to 3,250K.
These images are from a very windy dawn on the South Cornish coast last autumn. We had thought that this southern area (famed for lots of sailing) was generally much less rough than the North Cornish coast (famed for lots of surfing), but even though the south is in the English Channel, both coasts do broadly face the prevailing Atlantic weather systems coming from the SW. However, the south coast is indeed protected from winds coming directly from the West. Either way, it was a raging wind this weekend – we were staying with friends right on the cliff face facing SW, just west of the Rame Peninsula, in a fabulous shack/shed/beach-house, with stunning views and pathways down to the sea.
A very steep walk down the cliff face, just 45 minutes after the sunrise, brought us to a deserted and rocky cove. The first portrait picture has the sea foam on the rocks, the surf, the orange clouds on the horizon and the bright moon against the clear sky. It was taken at 27mm, ISO 200, f/11 and 1/160s. The second landscape photo was 30 minutes later, as the sun broke over the cliff top to just light up the tips of the breaking waves. Wonderful! It was taken at 31mm, ISO 160, f/11 and 1/160s.
Back to wonderful London! These images were actually from last summer, just before the first batch of River Thames’s bridges got their new lighting schemes – I must go back and re-capture them in their new settings. The ones that have been re-lit so far are London Bridge, Canon Street Railway Bridge, Southwark Bridge and the Millennium Bridge, with another four due this year.
Anyway, these were taken on 4 July – the Bankside area (behind Borough Market) was absolutely packed, but I managed to find a slot where the composition with the river, bridge and St Paul’s Cathedral behind worked well. As usual, I was looking for the sunset in the sky behind, traffic trails on the bridge and boat trails on the water, all with the natural light fading and lights from the buildings just coming on. Typically, you get the Golden Hour before sunset and the Blue Hour after sunset, where the sky still has colour (blue, mainly!) but the city lights have just come on. Sunset on this day was at 9.20pm – the first picture was at about 9pm in the golden phase, while the second one was at 10pm in the blue period.
To get the long exposures for the light trails (and the painterliness of the river and clouds), you need 5-25s exposures. To get this in normal daylight, you need to use a 10-stop ND filter, which I then drop to 5-stops around sunset and then to zero once it has got dark enough. The first photo was taken at 38mm, ISO 64, f/18 and 8s with 5-stops of ND (i.e. the natural light was EV11 less 5ND = EV6 in camera), while the second one was at 27mm, ISO 64, f/18 and 15s with no filter (i.e. the light had dropped to EV5, 10-stops below a sunny day). Both were taken on my Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 and Nikon D810.
You could go back every week for months on end, and get different images every time, as the light and tide infinitely changes! I’ve now added a set of six photos to a further collection of all the most photogenic of the London Bridges, in its own tab in my portfolio.
This is the shot at 6.30pm the following night when Venus had dropped to below the level of the moon. It was taken this time using my wider 16-35mm f/4 lens - at 18mm, ISO 200, f/4 and 1/80s. I could use a slower shutter speed on this lens as it has good VR, allowing me to use a better ISO value. The moon was a touch bigger but the addition of Venus was good. It was also a little cloudy on the horizon, which can often enhance the colours of the sunset, especially the reds – although this time, the effects were not that different to the day beforehand.
The second image is one of many that day of the yacht racing in the bay outside St George’s – it was very windy and the boats were really keeling over. I liked this particular photo with the two modern racing yachts framing another older vessel that was simply moored. This was taken on my D500 using my 70-200mm f/4 lens - at 200mm, ISO 100, f/8 (for enough Depth of Field) and 1/800s. I really needed my 200-500mm f/5.6 lens but had not brought it with me – so, I had to crop the image quite a bit further, down from the standard 20.7MP to 6MP, which is the smallest image size that Alamy will accept.
300C on a tropical island is a darn sight better than a cold, wet February in north London! We stayed right on Grand Anse Beach itself, which is just south of the capital St George’s. Last time we were here was over 30 years ago, before three children came along! Looking back at our photos from 1989, you can actually see that we were on Grand Anse Beach in almost exactly the same location – we remember the photos but have no recollection whatsoever of being on that beach beforehand!
First image is of the setting orange sun on the beach with the lovely reflections on both the sea and wet sand. This was just before 6pm. It was taken on my 24-70mm f/2.8 and D810 at 62mm, ISO 100, f/11 and 1/160s. In Lightroom, I held back the sky by 1.25 stops with a Luminance Mask and used a Cloudy White Balance (6,500K) – I also boosted the oranges a tad (+20). In Photoshop, I removed some construction clutter on the left-hand side and some swimmers who had strayed in to my nice, clean image!
The second shot was at 6.30pm – the dusk is much shorter here, which means that the darkness comes quickly. On this night, the new moon was also setting not far behind the sunset – it was just a tiny sliver of a crescent in the sky. Venus was higher in the sky too, but I couldn’t get everything in the frame. I managed to capture them all the following night when Venus had dropped to below the level of the moon, also helped by using my 16-35mm f/4 lens. The photo here though was taken at 28mm, ISO 400, f/4 and 1/160s, i.e. 5 stops darker than at the sunset. I used 28mm as the lens gets a little soft at 24mm but had to keep the shutter speed up as I couldn’t use my tripod – there were too many people around, which meant that I had to be in the water to take the pictures. The balance between aperture and ISO is then to be weighed up – I don’t like using more than ISO 400-800 in the dark as the images get too noisy at 100% (even with the fabulous D810 sensor) and the pictures also get a bit soft at f2.8-4. So, the best compromise was ISO 400 and f/4. There was obviously no need to hold the sky back any longer, while the White Balance had dropped to around 4,500K. I love the gradual transition from white/yellow at the sun’s location, through the whole spectrum, to black in the top right corner.
Final blog from New Zealand, ending on a most spectacular fashion, up around the foothills of Mt Cook or Aoraki (at 3,724m) – it was bathed in cloud the whole time, as was the adjacent Mt Tasman (at 3,497m), but after a steep climb up to the Tasman Lake, we came across a stunning view. The panoramic composition of 4 images can be seen in my first blog (December 2019), while this picture is a closer view of the glacier front itself at 35mm, ISO 64, f/11 and 1/160s. Most of the glacier is dark and covered in rock debris, with the clean white of the higher glacier back in the distance, on the right. The terminal lake has that distinctive grey/green colour caused by the glacial rock flour in the water. There were also a number of icebergs floating on the lake that had recently broken off the glacier front. The side moraine is very dramatic and clearly shows the previous extent of the ice.
This Tasman Lake (on the SE side of the two main peaks) feeds in to the Tasman River, which joins the Hooker River (from the Hooker Glacier), on the SW side of Mts Cook and Tasman, which then flows in to the stunningly blue Lake Pukaki. You drive alongside this aquamarine delight for miles as you approach or leave the Mt Cook village. This parting shot of the lake (4 composite images at 20mm, ISO 64, f/8 and 1/400s (as it was very windy)), with the peaks of Mts Cook and Tasman again hidden in the clouds, sums up the whole wonder of New Zealand. Stunningly beautiful (and almost deserted) scenery with snow-capped alpine mountains, glistening glaciers, roaring rivers, wonderous waterfalls and almost luminescent lakes all in one vista. In many areas, you are also not far from expansive white beaches, sub-tropical forests (with tree ferns galore) and steaming volcanoes. Incredible. What more can one say – we’ll be back there again next year! Although later this year, we’re off to Iceland too – can that match up, I wonder ?
After the wonders of the whole West Coast area, we drove cross country to the Pacific Coast and Dunedin. Locals were encouraging us to explore the city, but coming from London, with which not many cities can compete, we preferred to stick to the landscapes, and the wildlife! Unbeknownst to us on arrival in Dunedin, the Otago Peninsula on the edge of the city has a world-famous collection of beaches and cliffs, where sea lions and albatrosses rest/nest.
In one of my first blogs from New Zealand (see December 2019), I showed a yawning Sea Lion on the beach at Sandfly Bay. However, this young pup is from the adjacent Allans Beach, where there were also dozens of Sea Lions resting up for the day. You can almost walk on top of them accidentally, as they slightly bury themselves in the sand and then flick sand all over their bodies with their flippers. I did almost tread on one a one point, but then quickly moved back to a more respectable 20m, or so. Inevitably nowadays though, there was one clown who had to take a selfie video right up close, literally a metre away. This pup’s huge father came in from the sea a short time later and the young Sea Lion duly followed him back in to the water – the selfie-taker would have got the shock their lives, if they had been close that time! This was taken at 220mm on my D500 and 200-500mm f/5.6 lens, using ISO 900, f/8 and 1/800s.
Later in the day, we waited at Taiaroa Head for the albatrosses to come in – they fly in from about 5.30-6pm, we were told. This time of year, they were nesting and rearing their young, at the only mainland breeding colony of Royal Albatross in the world. There were several large groups of tourists and bird-watchers from about 4.30pm onwards, but by 6pm nearly all of them had left – we stayed, and the albatrosses finally started flying in at about 6.15pm. Only about 6-8 of them, but staggeringly enormous – with their 3m wingspan, way, way bigger than any of the other birds around! Very thin wings though, like a glider. They were difficult to capture, as they hovered around only briefly – many of my shots were out of focus, as expected, but this first frame that I took was spot on, taken at 270mm, ISO 140, f/8 and 1/640s.
We drove to Milford Sound from Te Anau – the road gets closed quite a lot, due to the threat of avalanches and/or rock falls, but was certainly open this time. We knew that Milford Sound would be spectacular as it’s one of the many iconic sights that you see on information beforehand, but had no clue that the drive there would be equally stunning. For much of the way, you are in a fairly narrow, high-sided valley, surrounded by mountains, snow, lakes and rivers. As it was spring in New Zealand, the snow melt also created literally thousands of huge waterfalls, just cascading hundreds of metres off the mountain peaks. At any location, you could see dozens of mountain peaks, each with dozens of individual waterfalls, all of which repeated itself over every km that we drove – simply amazing!
To justify the surroundings again, both these images are panoramic compositions of three images taken at 19mm on my 16-35mm f/4 using ISO 100-160, f/11 and 1/160s. The one of Milford Sound is taken from the shore, where a number of rivers join in to the deep water of the fjord, which gets up to 500m in depth. Mitre Peak on the middle left is the tallest mountain, rising 1,695m above the sea water level. On the right is Bowen Falls, where the Bowen River plunges 160m over a cliff edge – at the time, after recent heavy rain, the water fell a short distance and then just spouted out horizontally, with lots a spray in the air, which you can see on the lower left of the falls. Quite a sight!
On the way back, we then stopped at dozens of locations – this second photo is at Monkey Creek in the Hollyford Valley, with waterfalls simply pouring down in every direction.
The drive from Fox Glacier, along the West Coast, through Haast and the Mount Aspiring NP, by Lakes Wanaka & Hawea and finally across the mountains to Queensland, has to be one of the best in the world – unbelievably staggering for every minute of the whole 5-6 hours. You could stop every five minutes and spend hours at each location, making this journey alone last over a week, or more!
We did go back to the two main lakes the following day, as the weather was stormy, sunny and windy, all at once. Lake Wanaka was brooding but colourfully lit by shafts of sunlight poking through the low cloud. There were yellow lupins everywhere too, with purple and pink ones at higher levels. They are not indigenous to the country having been imported in Victorian times, and are therefore strictly a pest and environmental nuisance. Lake Hawea was more like a fjord with steep slopes of mountain entering the aquamarine waters. The shades of blue and green changed every minute as the sun broke intermittently through the clouds. Back at Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu was bathed in early evening sun – very stormy, windy and moody. The Remarkables mountain and ski range (up to about 2,300m) can be seen on the left, just outside Queenstown itself.
All three of these images cannot be best captured by anything other than a wide panorama – each has a field of view of at least 180o, needing to stitch 3-4 frames together, as I have described my December 2019 blog about the Tasman Lake & Glacier. Each one used 3-4 images at about 20mm on my 16-35mm f/4 using ISO 64-100, f/11 and 1/160-1/200s. The end products are 11-13,000 by about 4,000 pixels, after cropping the merged photos from Photoshop (using the Cylindrical mode).
After the raging waters of the Tasman Sea, the peace and serenity of the glaciers and mountains. We skipped the more popular Franz Josef Glacier and went, instead, to the quieter Fox Glacier. It’s 13km long from the peaks down to the temperate rainforests at its base, which are only 300m above sea level. However, the Glacier Access Road had recently been washed away by the Fox River and so we had to walk along the Glacier View Road instead, which was also closed to traffic, but open to walkers. We could only get so far, as the river bed here, although dry, was still very unstable. My 200-500mm f/5.6 brought the whole view in to sharp relief though. I took a number of images at 400-500mm that I’ll stitch together vertically, like a panorama, but this first one was at 200mm to show the whole scene in one shot. I’m pretty sure that it is Mount Tasman in the background (at 3,497m). The view was very monochromatic, except for the very obvious blue ice within the glacier. It was taken at ISO 220, f/11 and 1/800s (for stability on such a long lens).
Back down near Lake Matheson, I then took this photograph of both Mount Tasman on the left and the larger Mount Cook on the right. Mount Cook or Aoraki is New Zealand’s highest peak at 3,724m. Both mountains were shrouded in two lovely domes of pure white cloud – again confirming the reasons behind the Maori name for New Zealand of Aotearoa, i.e. “land of the long white cloud”. The juxtaposition of temperate, almost sub-tropical, greenery in the foreground is odd – you just don’t expect to see snow and glaciers next to rainforests! It was taken at 70mm on my 24-70mm f/2.8 using ISO 64, f/11 and 1/250s. We visited the other side of Mount Cook a week later, at the end of our month here – on a gloriously sunny day among the peaks, glaciers and lakes, but with the two main mountains still covered in cloud!
I’ve now put all the “best of the best” photos in to my Landscapes – New Zealand portfolio. It’s still just a first trawl through as I’ll have to process them all more thoroughly, to get them successfully available for sale on my stock pages at Alamy.
And so, on to the magnificent South Island - more mountains, more glaciers, more lakes, just more dramatic (if that’s possible), although surprisingly, it got hotter, not colder!
We crossed from Wellington to Picton, coming in to the deep fjord-type waters of Marlborough Sounds, but sadly, it was very wet with poor visibility. We then went on to Nelson (where we bought three inscribed gold rings from Jens Hansen, the makers of “The One Ring”, i.e. from Lord of the Rings). Several days later we got to the West Coast, facing the Tasman Sea – it had been very calm on this coast for months, apparently, but there was a raging wind, swell and surf, which was staggeringly dramatic, over the whole coastline from Westport to Greymouth. These two images just show a glimpse – fur seals at Tauranga Bay and enormous waves in the evening sunlight at Punakaiki. Punakaiki is famed for its layered rocks and stacks, like piles of pancakes, and its huge blow holes at high tide. We arrived not only at high tide but at a very stormy high tide – the water sprays were incredible, but the swell of the surf was just unbeatable too.
The fur seal struggling to get out of the rolling waves was taken on my D500 with the 200-500mm f/5.6 telephoto lens, at 440mm, ISO 100, f/8 (for slightly better depth of field) and 1/500s. Close up, you can see the individual water droplets on the ends of his (her?) whiskers! The later shot of the pancake rocks bathed in orange light, being battered by the waves, was on my D810 with the 16-35mm f/4 wide-angle lens, at 32mm, ISO 160, f/11 and 1/200s.
I’m gradually adding more of these South Island images now to my overall New Zealand portfolio, which clearly needs its very own section!