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!