I got up early again recently to capture the sunrise on Hampstead Heath. I was waiting for the lovely lighting conditions that one gets on a clear, cold morning – the pre-dawn shots over the London skyline are always great as the colours of the sky change so quickly. I started an hour before sunrise and took pictures of the cityscape until the sun finally broke through the horizon. I prefer the dawn, as opposed to the dusk, as the light seems much fresher after a cold night, and it’s always more peaceful too!
The first image was very early, about 45 minutes before sunrise – it was taken to capture the orange glow of the oncoming sun, the Moon, Venus beneath, and the glowing lights of the city, from Canary Wharf to The Shard and across to the BT Tower. This was my best shot of the day, taken at ISO 64, f/14 and a 4s exposure on my lovely 24mm f/1.8 wide angle prime.
The second image was taken at sunrise itself from the same position – a much brighter shot with less glowing of the lights, and more colour in the sky and foreground. It was also taken at 24mm and ISO 64, but now at f/16 with a range of exposures. I was really looking to see how one could definitively compare HDR or Blending techniques to the use of ND Grads or the Graduated Filter in Lightroom – see my blog in October 17 for more details. So, I took three bracketed exposures – 1/15s for the sky, 1/8s for the mid-tones and 1/4s for the foreground. I then took one shot at 1/4s with a 0.6ND soft grad, which holds the sky back by 2 stops, i.e. equivalent to 1/15s for the sky.
In terms of the quality of light, ND Grads, HDR and Blending techniques all capture the same wide base of light data, whereas the single mid-tones shot clearly needs some work to extract more light data, from both the highlights and shadows. However, the much greater ease of just using one RAW file is hugely appealing – ND Grads are a bit of a fuss (and a bit antiquated) and don’t suit non-straight transitions, HDR with three exposures can be rather odd visually and cannot really cope with any wind movements (of clouds, waves or trees), and Blending with two (or three) exposures does take some additional time and effort.
With the superb sensor of my D810 (largest dynamic range available of any small format, full-frame camera, at about 14EV), the option of only using one RAW file is definitely available. This is an option that is probably not available for DX, or even other FX, cameras. In this case, you do have to rely on working with the highlights and shadows - this is fine but you do need to carefully watch the image, the histogram and clipping previews all the while. Assuming that you’ve got a good mid-tones exposure, you can then adjust the Highlights and Shadows in Lightroom, within reason. These adjustments can be across the whole image or can be done more selectively with the Adjustment Brush. Alternatively, if the transition (or horizon) is reasonably straight, you can use the Graduated Filter to hold back the sky by about 1 stop. I then use the Whites and Blacks sliders like a Levels adjustment to maximise the tonal range and the Tone Curve for a final Curves adjustment.
Looking at the results at 100%, it is impossible to tell the difference between the ND Grad solution, the option of using two exposures blended together in Photoshop, or the option of using a single D810 RAW file. The HDR result was poor, as you have little control over the process and it simply cannot cope with any movements between the exposures. On that basis, I would say that in 95% of cases using a D810, you can just work with a single well-exposed RAW file in Lightroom – even when printed out at A1 or A0 sizes. Occasionally, to get an even bigger and better dynamic range, one could use two (or three) Blended files in Photoshop, or possibly ND Grads (if they suit). I would never use HDR techniques anymore.
You can see some of my other London skyline images from the day in my Cityscapes Portfolio.
I took lots of photographs in late October around Fistral Beach in Cornwall. It was my 60th birthday and we had treated 50 or so guests to a weekend at the fabulous Headland Hotel, which sits all alone on the cliffs overlooking the beach itself. We were expecting some good surfing times on the beach but, as it happened, it was the weekend of Storm Brian, which brought massive gale force winds and waves across the whole of the British Isles. I cannot remember the wind speeds (it was probably gusting at around 70-80mph) but it was literally almost impossible to stand up on the top of the headland. So, most guests made a quick foray outside for the wild experience, but then made an even quicker retreat to the luxury of the hotel fireplaces!
The first image was right at the height of the storm – I waited for those gorgeous little glimpses of sunlight that seep through the dark clouds, suddenly providing all that contrast. The second shot was taken the following day – it was a tad less windy, but the beach was still very much closed for surfing due to the massive waves and choppy waters. You can see some of the other images in my Landscapes Portfolio.
All were taken with my 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, which is fabulous although it can be a little soft if used at its extremes, especially at 24mm. Focussing is not difficult as with that range of focal lengths the hyperfocal distance at f/11 is 2-15m – so, as long as you focus on something more than that distance (say, 10-20m away), everything is in focus from about 5-10m to infinity, which suited my images just fine. I kept the shutter speed generally up around 1/500s to capture the clouds and waves – this pushed the ISO up to 200, which is still just fine on my D810.
In Lightroom, I worked on these high contrast images by burning the highlights and dodging the shadows - using overall adjustments and the graduated filter or adjustment brush. The dynamic range of my D810 is so high (about 14EV) that you can make all these adjustments with no obvious loss of quality, even at 100% views. On a less violent day, I might have used Lee Filters grads to control the dynamic range of the scene, but it was really impossible in that wind to play around with filters, and with my D810, I can get exactly the same result just with Lightroom. HDR techniques would simply not work as the clouds and waves would be so different in each bracketed exposure.
All in all, it was quite a weekend to remember!
Just added a new section to my Gardens - Places portfolio to cover some late autumn shots at Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire. Waddesdon was built as a French Renaissance-style chateau in 1874 for Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild to display his extraordinary art collection and entertain the fashionable world, and it became part of the National Trust in 1957.
As ever, waiting for some low light and/or stormy skies was the key to capturing the more interesting images. National Trust properties like this are difficult to photograph as you cannot get in to the grounds in the really early morning or late afternoon for the very best lighting conditions – so, you have to wait for the best type of light during a typical day. However, it was right at the end of September with reasonably low light and good autumn colours, both in the woodland and more formal garden areas.
The first shot is of the magnificent house and very colourful parterre – I’m not a fan of such gaudy colours but the gardens at this time of year are apparently one of England’s finest examples of Victorian carpet bedding - I do like the clipped hedges though! It was taken with my 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, set at 28mm to avoid the softness that you get at 24mm – f/13 for good depth of field and 1/125s to freeze the little bit of wind movement, both of which resulted in a nicely low ISO of 100.
The second image is in part of the woodland area, with a wonderful display of autumn reds, oranges and yellows. The gravel pathways, through the Acers especially, were picked out beautifully in the dappled sunlight. This time I used f/11 and 1/125s again, but the more shady woodland had dropped the lighting by 2-3 stops - resulting in an ISO of 400, which is still good enough for large prints on my D810.
Other images of the house and grounds can be seen in this website portfolio or in my Alamy collection.
Having got some good dusk photos from Westminster Abbey a few months ago, I thought that I’d go back to St Paul’s Cathedral at that time of day too. I took pictures around St Paul’s last year, but it was during the day and close to sunrise, not at sunset.
The side entrance, facing the River Thames, is probably the best composition, but in facing south, it neither catches the sunrise nor the sunset. The main entrance on Ludgate Hill does face west though and was likely to be a good location. I would not be able to capture the setting sun behind the cathedral, but the curve of the road from Ludgate Hill in to St Paul’s Church Yard would probably give me some good shots of car/bus lights wrapping themselves around the church.
I waited a few weeks for a suitable sunny/cloudy evening, which would be best for the lighting conditions, but was not expecting the drama that unfolded. Shortly after I set up immediately in front of the main entrance, the setting sun bathed the Great West Door in wonderful light (as expected), but a wonderful double rainbow appeared almost exactly behind the cathedral as well (not as expected!).
I used a 5-stop ND Lee filter for this first shot, to lengthen the exposure time (from 1/20s to 2s), which blurred the people and traffic in the front of the image. (Why do people use apps for exposure times when all you have to do is multiply by two, five times? Surely, photographers in particular are used to multiplying by two!) For the second image, over an hour later and about 45 minutes after the sunset, I caught the sweep of lights and buses around the cathedral. By this later time, the exposure time was easily long enough (25s) without using any filters.
The images were all taken on my 16-35mm f/4 lens, set at 19mm to avoid the extreme edge of the focal lengths. I then used ISO 64 and f/16, which helps with the starburst effect on the streetlights, as well as giving good depth of field and longer exposure times, without any significant diffraction. The white balance varied over the time from about 5,500K to 10,000K, and back to about 6,000K.
You can see more of my St Paul’s Cathedral images in my Cityscapes Portfolio.
After staying at Le Manoir (see below) in September, we went to Greys Court for lunch. It’s a 16th century mansion and gardens, featuring a Great Tower from the 14th century and a charming collection of walled gardens.
I had a bit of a bad day with focussing, mainly because I wasn’t concentrating properly on the hyperfocal and focussing distances. When I’m using a prime lens or a zoom lens on a tripod, I stop and think carefully about all the focus distances, but when wondering around with a zoom lens on this day, I simply didn’t concentrate and produced quite a few shots where the subject was in focus well enough but the background (which is also a crucial subject for most garden and/or historic building images) was not. I’ve noted lots of times that for gardens where you need close distance to infinity in focus (generally), you need a hyperfocal distance greater than about 3-4m. This means that a 50mm lens never works (on a full-frame sensor), a 35mm lens only works at f/11-f/16, while a 24mm lens nearly always works. So, you really need to keep the focal length less than about 35mm – in this session, I took quite a few images at 35-50mm, which was stupid in hindsight. The background only just creeps out of focus, but it’s enough to prevent the image being good enough for sale.
Anyway of the successful shots, this first image shows both the tower and the walled surroundings, while the second photo shows one of the many gates through the walls, although this one was only about 1.5m tall, which might have suited someone from the 16th century, but definitely not anyone today! Both were taken at about 1/125s, f/11 and ISO 100 on my 24-70mm f/2.8 lens at 35-40mm.
I haven’t added any more images to this website portfolio, as they’re not especially brilliant, but you can see some more of them anyway in my Alamy portfolio.
I took another set of long exposures of the Bonfire Night fireworks yesterday, from a slightly different perspective than other images.
Previously, I had used my pretty good 24-120mm f/4 lens (but at its widest angle of 24mm where it is a little softer) and the wonderful 24-70mm f/2.8 lens (at a focal length of 36mm where it performs superbly). This year though I used my new wide angle prime, the 24mm f/1.8, which is fantastically sharp across the whole frame. I had the lens stopped down to f/8 (for good depth of field and best quality) and used my native ISO of 64, giving a shutter speed of 15 seconds. I obviously also used a tripod with mirror-up on the camera, a remote release and the eyepiece covered. I always also set the long exposure noise reduction on the camera to be on. I then did virtually nothing in Lightroom to adjust the images - just basic settings with a white balance of around 4,000K and little more noise reduction than normal.
I was so pleased with my images last year (with my D810 and the 24-70mm lens) as they were much better than the previous year (with my D7100 and the 24-120mm lens). But this year (with my D810 and the 24mm prime), they are even better still.
It was very calm during the night, but there was a lot of cloud and smoke, which added to the interest. The full moon was also just in shot, as it occasionally popped out from behind the clouds, and this really adds a further drama to the scenes.
You can see my other firework images in the Abstract Portfolio.
Jil and I spent a couple of days at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in September. It’s just been voted the 2nd best restaurant in the world and is truly a wonderful experience. Raymond Blanc’s restaurant was awarded two Michelin stars in 1984, the first year of opening, and has held them ever since. He works extensively with produce organically grown in the fabulous grounds of the manor house. You will never see a neater, more precise and more carefully tended allotment anywhere in the world! You could see the half dozen different types of chard, for example, that would be on the menu that night.
The main meal was a seven-course treat – we could have had the flight of seven wines too to match each dish, but besides being £250 just for the flight of wines, we’d be utterly legless by the end. We also stayed overnight in one of the best rooms of the hotel – charmingly gorgeous, not a hair out of place anywhere, with lovely service. I don’t like hotel staff fussing around and they all managed to maintain that delicate balance of excellent service while not being remotely obtrusive.
The grounds are great too – there’s a wonderful Japanese tea garden that was bathed in dappled light coming through the trees, as in the first image, as well as a very naturalistic and loose wildflower meadow designed by Chris Beardshaw, which was still looking very good with the mixture of grasses and dead summer seed heads, as in the second image. Both were taken with 30-40mm focal lengths at around 1/160s, f/11 and ISO 200.
I cannot sell any of these images as it’s a private garden, although I might be able to get a few shots to use that are not recognisable as being from this particular property.
Jil and I went to Sissinghurst back in June, on a lovely clear and warm summer’s day. It was a little bright for the very best shots, but the contrast between the blue skies, brickwork structures and the garden flowers was good.
As I have noted lots of times, it’s quite awkward to get a really good range of the garden in focus – ideally, you need from 1-2m close up all the way to 20m, infinity preferably. The only way is to close the aperture down to f/11 to f/16 and to use a wide angle lens of 24-35mm (on a full-frame camera). In this range, the hyperfocal distance is 2-4m – so, as long as you focus just a bit beyond this distance (make sure it’s beyond, or else you lose far focus distance very quickly), then everything will indeed be in focus from 1-2m to infinity. As it was a sunny day, I could use this f/11-16 with a fast enough shutter speed (>1/125-1/160s) to freeze any wind movement and still get a good ISO of 100-200. I could have also added a polarising filter to crispen the blue sky and the green leaves, but as this takes 1-2 stops of light, it would have meant a compromise on something else. Widening the aperture was not an option for reasons of good depth of field, and while a tripod might have worked to use a slower shutter speed, there was still wind movement to control. Thus the only compromise would have been to use a higher ISO, which is not great when you want to sell the images for large print sizes. So, I left the filter in the bag!
The two best photographs of the day were the ones here – one of the ancient oast houses with a foreground packed full of daisies, and the second of the incredibly tranquil stream that was beautifully planted along its edge, with very loose and naturalistic foliage.
Other images of Sissinghurst can be seen here in my Gardens Portfolio or on my Alamy portfolio.
As noted below, this whole issue of using post-processing to achieve the effect of holding back the sky, as opposed to using a graduated ND filter (ND Grads) on the camera, is interesting. If you have a less than top of the range DSLR, then the best method to hold back the sky (without using HDR techniques) is indeed to use ND Grads on the camera, although they do suffer from lack of convenience and the inability to do anything other than define a straight horizon. However, with cameras like my D810, which have enormous dynamic range and the ability to pull huge amounts of good quality (and low noise) detail out of the highlights and shadows, you could use ND Grads still, but you will get pretty much identical results in the vast majority of cases by simply working sensibly with a single, un-filtered RAW file.
Lots of photographers seem to suggest that a 2-stop ND Grad is the most useful, but I always find that 2 stops is far too much. More commonly, I would only need to hold the sky back by 0.5 to 1 stops, occasionally up to 1.5 stops – I don’t think I have ever used 2 stops and certainly not 3 stops.
Of course, you can always use full HDR techniques with three or more photos, but these seem to have fallen out of fashion, partly because the results are never that convincing (with ghosting and movement issues) and partly because it takes a lot of additional effort. However, HDR techniques do maximise the quality of the total light data.
It’s conceptually and practically easier though to think about blending a pair of images, or three perhaps. You then take the 2-3 separate images – one exposed for the sky, one for the darker foreground, and perhaps one for the mid-tones. This simpler HDR option, like the full HDR techniques, uses more light data but may also have some issues with movement between the frames. Anyway, you then blend the 2-3 images as layers with layer masks in Photoshop, which is pretty easy to do – it’s just a matter of brushing them carefully together at the interface. It still requires some additional effort, of course.
Finally, there’s the option with an image from a D810, or similar, of just working with one set of light data. This only works with sensors that do indeed produce very high dynamic ranges and with suitable care taken to expose the image well in the first place. The best option is to expose to the right (ETTR). Whereas Ansel Adams used to expose for the shadows and then develop the highlights in the darkroom, nowadays with digital sensors, it is best to expose for the highlights and then develop the shadows in Lightroom. This is because, even though the shadows always contain lots of retrievable light and colour data, it is the highlights that contain the bulk of all the data. So, without exposing too far to the right (when highlight data might get blown out and be lost), it is always best to ETTR as much as possible. You can do this by metering the separate blocks of highlights and shadows, or by simply keeping a close eye on the histogram. The histogram is generally from a camera JPEG though – the RAW file will always contain slightly more highlight data, which means that you can indeed push the ETTR quite far. You should always do this ETTR at base ISO (ISO 64 for my D810) by opening up the aperture or by slowing down the speed – it’s never sensible to increase the ISO for this ETTR effect.
Having got the best ETTR RAW file, you can then post-process it to suit. Globally across the whole image, you can use Lightroom to darken all the highlights and lighten all the shadows. This often does most of what is required, although it might also need a little increase in contrast and/or clarity and in noise reduction to produce a balanced image. If there’s a reasonably straight horizon or similar line, you can also use the Graduated Filter and reduce the exposure of the sky, by 0.5 to 1.0 stops. Finally, if a bit more effort is needed, you can also use the Adjustment Brush in Lightroom to darken the individual highlights and lighten the individual shadows very precisely - which is back to burning and dodging, of course.
Overall, given that on most occasions you do not want to get in to using full HDR techniques with multiple files or even blending techniques with 2-3 files, it is still a good idea to use ND Grads to increase the light data. The horizon or similar line has to be reasonably straight though and a reasonable transition between the highlights and the shadows. However, with the exceptional quality and dynamic range of the D810 sensor, the further and very simple option of just working with one un-filtered RAW file is definitely available. I can confirm that from thousands of high dynamic range D810 images, you can readily produce superb quality, large-scale photographs from one good RAW file with no visible noise or lack of detail.
I have now finished processing the images that I took in Brittany, France last July. I got 50 in the end that are 5-star, of which about 35 have been posted for sale on Alamy. Several of the best are also now shown in my Landscapes – Brittany and Cityscapes – Brittany portfolios, as well as in my Abstracts and Wildlife sections.
The first photograph was on a lovely beach near Plouhinec in the late afternoon sun. The sign was interesting, as was the contrast with the sand/sea background – a corniche is a coastal or mountain road, flanked by steep slopes on both sides. I was going for a really sharp capture of the sign itself with the backdrop fading away in the relatively small depth of field. So, I used f/2.8, although the best composition was using a focal length of only 40mm on my 24-70mm f/2.8, which is a tad too wide for the best bokeh. At ISO 100, the shutter speed went up to 1/2,000s.
The second photo below was taken the following day, down by the river that flows in to Audierne harbour. It was close to midday, but the sudden onset of rain brought some gorgeously dark and stormy clouds over the banks of the river, with shafts of light falling on the rather grand building and surrounding trees. This picture was captured at 70mm, f/11, 1/125s and ISO 100. I also used the Graduated Filter in Lightroom to hold back the sky by about a 0.5 stop.
We spent a week in Brittany, France last July and I have now processed about half of them. I have got about 25 so far that are 5-star by my system, of which about 20 have been posted for sale on Alamy. Of those, there are now several shown in my Landscapes – Brittany and Cityscapes – Brittany portfolios.
The first image was in the seaside port town of Audierne. I loved the symmetry of this building front and its similarity to the colour of the sky. It was actually a poissonerie, but I had to remove all those details to make the image in to one that I could sell. It’s now just about abstract enough for it not to be recognised as a private building.
The second photograph was on a beach just outside Plouhinec – I waited for ages to get the right wave that rolled back perfectly to bump in to the next arriving wave, giving a clean horizontal line. I was aiming to get the three bands of colour (blue sky, azure sea and sandy sand) in to three equal thirds.
Both pictures were taken quite close to midday – sometimes, you just cannot be somewhere when the light is closer to sunrise or sunset! Nevertheless, both show fresh, clear blue skies that work well with the two subjects. The light was pretty much sunny sixteen – so, I used ISO 100, f/11-14 and 1/160s. As this particular lens does not have VR, I have to be quite careful to get really sharp images on the full-frame sensor of my D810 – I find that I generally need at least 1/125-1/160s for handheld shots, which brings the aperture down from the sunny sixteen rule of f/16 to f/11-14.
I was using my 24-70mm f/2.8 lens throughout and both images were at around 30mm focal length.
Further to my blog in July, I went back last month to take some more photos of Westminster Abbey at dusk. Whereas the first sequence had been quite close with a busy foreground, this second series was deliberately set further back with a wider angle lens. I was positioned outside the QEII Centre at the top end of Victoria Street, in Broad Sanctuary. This enabled me to get a wider view of the front of the Abbey, with a trail of lights and buses going down in to Parliament Square.
The light of the setting sun was wonderful for about 15 minutes, but I couldn’t capture a good enough image of a bus to cover the huge amount of roadworks in the area just outside the Abbey. So, this first image doesn’t quite get the full glory of the sun, although there’s still a hint of it on the towers – it does have a red London bus though to help hide the roadworks. It was taken about 30 minutes before sunset and I used a 5-stop ND Lee filter to lengthen the exposure time (15s) to get a blur of traffic in the foreground.
The second image below was almost my last shot of the day, with the daylight virtually gone – it was taken about 45 minutes after sunset. By this time, the exposure time was easily long enough (20s) without using any filters. I had to use quite a lot of Photoshop to make the roadworks melt away, by blurring and reddening them all to appear as though they were buses and brake lights – it works pretty well by pushing them out of the full view that would otherwise make them very apparent. Clearly, I need to go again to get the perfect shot!
The images were all taken on my 16-35mm f/4 lens, set at 16mm. The ISO was at 64 and the aperture was f/16-18, which helps with the starburst effect on the streetlight, as well as giving good depth of field and longer exposure times.
You can see more of my Westminster Abbey images in my Cityscapes Portfolio.
We have decided to open our garden again next year for the National Garden Scheme (NGS) – on the Sunday before the Chelsea Flower Show, 20 May 2018. We opened a couple of years ago when the garden was completely new and freshly planted, but it is now 5 years old and reasonably mature. So, Jil is happy to let the general public have a look around – it’s all for charity, of course. As Jil is one of the few Members of the Society of Garden Designers (SGD), it is quite rare for an NGS garden to be one that has been designed by an SGD member.
As it has taken 5-6 years for the design to grow and bulk out, I have never really taken any wide shots of the garden – I have only previously been able to get small views and close-ups. So, it was now time to take some wide angle photographs of the whole garden, with all its elements. A selection of these will go on the NGS website to promote the garden. Hopefully, we might also get a selection of the photos in one of the garden magazines/journals – next Spring, just before the NGS Open Day would be good.
I had to wait quite a while for the right conditions – good early morning or late afternoon sun, before too much shade envelops too much of the garden. I was using my 16-35mm f/4, wide open at 16mm in general. Whereas you might need at least f/11 to get enough Depth of Field (DoF) with a 30mm focal length, you can actually use a range of apertures right up to f/4 with a 16mm focal length, and still get everything in focus from about 1m to infinity. Most of the sunnier images were then shot at ISO 64-100, about f/8-11 for good quality, and using at least 1/125s to freeze any wind motion. In the slightly shadier areas, I could open the lens up to f/5.6 without any DoF concerns. In some of the early morning images, it was still enough in the shade (i.e. no wind) to use a tripod and slower speeds of around 1/4s – then using f/11 again.
The first photo shows the view from the patio, just before the sun drops too far down below the house, whereas the second image shows the woodland area at the back of the garden, which is always in shade or dappled shade. The garden is very clean and contemporary next to the house (reflecting the colours and materials used in the house) and then gradually transitions in to a much more organic and naturalistic garden, as it becomes the woodland area that surrounds the fabulous oak tree at the rear.
You can see more of these images in my Gardens - Seasons Portfolio.
That last big sale of mine, for use on a 12m by 3m billboard, did also raise the whole issue of Rights Managed (RM) vs Royalty Free (RF) for me. All my images to date have been submitted as RF, on the basis that you might sell more at slightly lower prices and knowing that the majority of clients nowadays want RF. Purchasers then, for that one-off payment of course, have use of that image as many times as they want in any location. However, if one has a collection of valuable images that are difficult to produce, then they should probably be RM, as was the case with that Hampstead Heath picture. It took a lot of time to prepare, take and process the photograph – so, it should be sold with real value for use only at certain locations for an agreed length of time. It could also be made available exclusively for that same period. As the Heath image used on the billboard was not on Alamy, I was therefore able to sell it directly as RM – for a good fee! I have taken the view now that most of my images are good quality, do take considerable effort to capture and do take significant time to process. On that basis, the vast majority of my new images are now logged as RM – I cannot change older images that have been sold as RF to RM, obviously. The only images that I now might sell as RF are likely to be good quality shots that were easy to take and process – all the rest will generally be RM. I might now sell slightly fewer pictures but hopefully at higher prices – this is what most real pros do and should better suit the majority of my images. It also seems the best way to attach real value to my photographs. I guess, that I’m not now targeting the mass market where there are lots of images, but a more bespoke market where clients are willing to pay for higher quality and exclusivity. Aston Martin, not Ford! We’ll see.........
I sold this image last month to an ad agency working for Land Rover. It’s being used, as you can see, in a campaign during September, on this 96-sheet billboard, which is the largest that they make in the UK, at 12m by 3m - that’s big! It’s just around the corner – on the A41 between Brent Cross and Golders Green.
I did have to run in to the central reservation to get the picture (on a bit of a grim day) and I could have removed the annoying lampost, but ........
It’s certainly a nice image, but it does have some unusual elements. It was taken in November 2015 at 6.30am, just before the sun actually rose, on my D7100 with a 24-120mm f/4 lens. I was working with HDR techniques and it’s therefore a combination of 4 images over about 4 stops, using f/11 and 1.6s, 3s, 13s and 20s. The camera was at 50mm and ISO 100. Nowadays, I wouldn’t really bother so much with HDR, as I can probably get as good an image (if not better) with the massive dynamic range of my D810. HDR certainly pulls out the best detail from all areas, but at the expense of some movement between the images and general ghosting. In this image, I had actually pulled the shadows back a little too much, which left the milky haze just above the tree line. I guess they liked the milky shadows, as it looks like a ghostly fog/haze above the city. Everything is very subjective in art, of course………
At 5,715 by 3,050 pixels, it is also interesting to look at print sizes. Normally, I would suggest that at 150-200ppi, it would print really well at about A1 size, i.e. 90cm wide. I have printed quite a few out at this size and they all look superb, even close up. Of course, it depends on viewing distance. For a glossy magazine, i.e. an A4/A3 image that is 20-40cm in size, viewed up close at 30cm, you will need the industry standard of at least 300ppi. I know that my A1/A0 prints that are about 1m wide, viewed at about 1m, or even much closer, print superbly at 150-200ppi. So, what happens with a 12m wide billboard?
A 0.3m wide image (A4) viewed at 0.3m produces the same size image in your eye as a 1m wide image (~A1) viewed at 1m, as does a 12m wide billboard viewed at 12m. They can all therefore have the same number of pixels. So, the viewing distance (in m) times the ppi must be constant, at a figure of about 120-150. This agrees with the last paragraph – a viewing distance of 0.3m needs 400-500ppi, 1m needs 120-150ppi and 10m needs 12-15ppi. Billboards all seem to get printed at 10-20ppi, which ties in with everything above. My image at 5,715 pixels comes out at 12ppi when printed 12m wide, but as printed though at about 9m wide, it was closer to 16ppi. Any 24MP camera producing a 6,000 pixel long side would be 13ppi. My 36MP D810 with a 7,360 pixel long side would be 16ppi. To get the 20ppi, you would need a medium format camera with over 60MP and a 9,500 pixel long side.
As with any stock agency sale, I sell all my photographs without any Property or Model Releases. In general, none of my images need releases, as I carefully always shoot public scenes/places from public land, and equally carefully, I always remove all trademarks and recognisable people. Most importantly though, it is the sole responsibility of the purchaser/user of the image to check whether any releases, or any other kinds of approval, are needed. In this instance, the ad agency also got approval to use the image from the Corporation of London, from whose land the photograph was taken, although Hampstead Heath is really more like public land and the image is definitely of a public scene.
I took some day time pictures around the Royal Albert Hall a while ago (see my blog from January this year) and have been meaning to go back and get some dusk/night shots for a while now.
I was aiming to get some photographs in the hour before sunset using a 5-10 stop Lee Filters ND filter to lengthen the exposure time up to 10-30s. After the sunset (at about 8pm), the light drops pretty quickly, although the sky stays colourful for another hour, or so. In this golden or blue hour, you then do not need any filters, as the exposure time will be 10-30s anyway. Focal lengths were generally about 30mm with a native ISO 64 and ~f/16. The best shots do always seem to be at the latter end of that hour after sunset, when there is still some light in the sky but the car lights are brighter, and more dominant.
I jumped between a location on the main road next to the Royal Albert Hall looking north towards the Albert Memorial and a much quieter spot to the south-east of the Hall. Strangely, both roads are called Kensington Gore. The first location on the main road had lots of traffic to produce good sets of car light trails at the lower edge of the image, with the sunset in the background on the left side of the frame. At the second spot, I could look to the north-west and frame the Royal Albert Hall with the adjacent buildings, and then also have the sun setting behind the Hall. I had to wait a while here to get the shots that I wanted with the car light trails forming a double curve as Kensington Gore sweeps firstly to the left and then to the right.
Both images then needed a quite a bit of work, firstly in Lightroom to get the correct White Balance (which varied from 3,000 to 13,000K) and to also balance the shadows and highlights, and secondly in Photoshop to remove quite a bit of street clutter!
More of these images can be seen in my Hyde Park Cityscapes in my Portfolio.
We spent a week in Sardinia, Italy last July (July 2016!) but with so much other stuff going on, I have only just got around to processing all the images. I had taken around 400 pictures, which always seemed too much to go through until recently. Most of the photographs were of the various sunsets and sunrises, where every picture (that is only a few minutes apart from the last one) can capture very different and varying light conditions. So, you cannot really batch process them all; you have to assess each one carefully.
I got about 40 in the end that were 5-star by my system, of which about 25 have been posted for sale on Alamy, as several were quite similar in content. Of those, about 8 were really nice, most of which are now shown in my Landscapes – Sardinia portfolio.
The two shown here are both just before the actual sunset, at about 9pm. The light towards the sun was only 2-3 stops below a sunny day, at an EV of 12-13. So, on the first image I used f/13 and ISO 160 to then handhold at 1/60s, which was fine with good VR. The crepuscular rays shining through the stormy clouds looked great. It seemed obvious for the composition to be nice and symmetrical. For the second image, I bumped up the shutter speed to 1/200s to capture this crazy flying boat-plane, which appeared like Icarus heading off in to the sun! At f/11, this increased the ISO to 400, which is about the limit of where even my D810 can best cope in these low-light conditions (and still produce really good quality at large print sizes).
I was using my 24-120mm f/4 lens throughout, which is a good compromise solution when only carrying one lens. It’s a little soft at the edges occasionally, but it has a good focal length range and great VR. Both images were at around 100mm focal length, which only gave me a depth of field from about 25m to infinity – this was fine as long as I didn’t include any obvious near foreground.
We’ve just spent a July week this year in Brittany – hopefully, that set of pictures will be out shortly, not next year!
I took some photos of Westminster Abbey at dusk last week. It was due to be a sunny, but partly cloudy evening, which gave the prospect of some good light around sunset. I took a first sequence from Tothill Street to capture the main West Door (with the Victoria Tower of the Houses of Parliament in the background). The light of the setting sun was stunning for about 15 minutes – this first image was taken an hour before sunset. I also used a 5-stop ND Lee filter to lengthen the exposure time (5s) - to get a blur of red London bus in front of the image.
For the second sequence, I moved around on to Victoria Street, as I wanted to get the sweep of lights and buses in to the foreground of the photograph. The second image below was my last shot of the day, with the daylight virtually gone – it was taken an hour after sunset. By this time, the exposure time was easily long enough (15s) without using any filters.
The images were all taken on my 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, set at about 40mm. The ISO was set at my native value of 64 and the aperture was f/16-22, which helps with the starburst effect on the streetlight, as well as giving good depth of field and longer exposure times, without too much diffraction. The white balance would normally vary from about 4,000K to 8,000K over this time (and with the change in filters), but it did seem to stay pretty constant at about 5,500K (i.e. normal daylight), probably due to the streetlight temperature.
I used the Transform tab in Lightroom to adjust the building verticals – I’ve tried these before and never found that any of the Auto features work very well, but they seemed to work fine this time! I also had to do a lot of cloning in Photoshop too, as there was all sorts of clutter in the foreground, especially.
Overall, not a bad evening’s work. In hindsight though, the foregrounds are still a little too busy – I’ll try a slightly calmer perspective at some other time. You can see more of my Westminster Abbey and other Westminster images in my Cityscapes Portfolio.
Our Shotokan Karate Association, SHOTO, held a special training event last Friday at our Winchmore Hill Dojo to celebrate 40 years of training by each of our 7th Dans, Sensei Tony Kilcullen and Sensei Roy Banton.
They both took the Dan grades and the Kyu grades from the whole SHOTO Association through some special Kumite and Kata routines, under the watchful eye of our Chief Instructor, Hanshi Mick Randall MBE, 9th Dan.
Jil (6th Dan) trained too, but I (also a 6th Dan) was unfortunately laid up with a recurring injury to my hip replacement. So, I had the rare opportunity to take some photographs instead. More can be seen on the Facebook and Twitter pages of SHOTO and on the SHOTO website (www.shoto.org), but some highlights are shown here.
The first shows the best portrait of the day during the kata session, while the second shows the best action shot from the kumite. Some further images are shown in my Abstracts - Karate portfolio.
The lighting was tricky at an EV of only about 8, i.e. around 7 stops lower than a sunny day. Most of the close-ups were using my 70-200mm f/4 lens that I had open at f/5.6 (to give a little more depth of field). Shutter speeds were 1/100-1/200s to freeze the action and to get a reasonably crisp image. All up, this left me with an ISO of about 1600 – this was fine for images up to about A4/A5 size. Anything larger than A4 would really start to show the low-light noise levels, even with my D810/D7100 sensors and a good dose of noise reduction in Lightroom!
I have just deleted all my images from Shutterstock – they were so unhelpful and made it so difficult; it has literally taken me 4 weeks to get it all done.
I was never very happy selling images through them, because as a micro-stock agency, they sell most photographs through a subscription service that offers tiny payments to the photographers. A more traditional stock agency, like Alamy, offers a proper service with good rewards for the best images. I’m making considerably more from Alamy than I ever did from Shutterstock. Shutterstock’s keywording process is also very tedious, whereas Alamy now offers a very slick system.
I was generally getting about 80-90% of my photographs accepted on Shutterstock, but their pass-fail criteria were often very strange and incongruous, which did become frustrating. With Alamy on the other hand, after two early failures at the start, I am now getting 100% of my photographs accepted.
The final straw was Shutterstock’s apparent recent changes to their “property release” criteria. I’m very careful not to include people or logos in my images, or to include private properties. But Shutterstock (no doubt due to the USA’s more litigious culture) has been failing large swathes of my images recently for “property release” issues. None of which in my view were correct. Take these two images. The first of Buckingham Palace was failed due to “property release” issues. Firstly, even though it might strictly be a Royal Residence, it is actually in full view of the public – it’s not like I was sneaking around the back gardens, for example! And secondly, there are already hundreds of royalty-free (boom, boom!) images of Buckingham Palace on Shutterstock anyway, including previous ones of mine! The second image of the Heron (just further below) was taken at Cliveden, a National Trust property – it was also failed for “property release” issues. I don’t usually try to sell pictures of the actual National Trust properties, but the gardens and wildlife on their public land is definitely fair game (boom, boom!).
So, stuff Shutterstock – I’ve now closed my account entirely. All my images are now solely available via this website or on Alamy – there’s a link on my Home page to my Alamy portfolio with nearly 500 photographs.
Just added a new section to my Gardens - Places portfolio to cover some late Spring shots at Cliveden in Buckinghamshire. Cliveden sits on the banks of the River Thames and has been a famous country home (and location of elite parties) for various owners from the Duke of Buckingham in 1666-1687 to the Astors in 1893-1967.
As ever, waiting for some low light and/or stormy skies was the key to capturing the more interesting images. National Trust properties like this are difficult as you cannot get in to the grounds in the really early morning or late afternoon for the very best lighting conditions – so, you have to wait for the best type of light during a typical day.
Other images of the main gardens can be seen in this website portfolio or on my Stock Agency collection at Alamy (see the Home Page for direct access), but the two here are from the lovely Japanese water gardens.
The wide shot was taken with my 24-70mm f/2.8 lens on my D810 – f/13 for good depth of field and 1/160s to freeze the little bit of wind movement, both of which resulted in a reasonably low ISO of 200. If you look closely, you can see a Heron on the far bank of the lake. The second photograph is a lovely close-up of that same Heron – it took quite a few shots to get a perfectly crisp and clean image with that gorgeous soft, green light as a background. This was taken with my 200-500mm f/5.6 lens on a D7100 – wide open at f/5.6 and 1/500s to freeze any movement, both of which were possible in that light using a perfect ISO of 100. At full size, you can see every feather on its head in perfect sharpness – I must get it printed out at about A2 to really show it off!
Picked up our son Ben from York for the last time – he’s just finished a four-year MSc course in Chemistry. I doubt he’ll ever go back again – maybe periodically! I’ve never really had time before to look around the campus properly – so, now was a good opportunity to take some pictures for the last time.
It’s a lovely campus, rather spoiled by the 1960s buildings that are distinctly showing their age now. As ever as a landscape and wildlife photographer, I always carry two cameras with me, as the process of constantly changing lenses to suit different shots, subjects or lighting conditions is too time consuming. This time, I carried my lovely 24-70mm f/2.8 on a Nikon D810 and the 200-500mm f/5.6 on my D7100. This latter lens operates as an effective 300-750mm lens on the DX camera, which is superb for the wildlife images that you can nearly always take whilst capturing landscape pictures.
The first image shows the central fountain on the main lake framed by a new seating area – the day was stormy but very sunny as well. The late afternoon sun was still rather bright for my liking, but worked well enough once I incorporated some graduated filters and adjustment brushes in Lightroom! It was taken at 1/200s, f/10 and ISO 100 on a 50mm focal length.
The second picture shows one of the many Greylag Geese on the campus. You do need the slightly brighter light of the day to get the best wildlife shots, although admittedly animal behaviour can be very different in the daytime as compared to times closer to dawn or dusk. In these brighter lights though, you can get higher shutter speeds, of 1/800s say, with the lens wide open at f/5.6 whilst keeping the ISO nice and low at 100-400.
I’ve added a selection of other wildlife images from York to my Wildlife Countryside portfolio.
I caught the last swathe of spring flowers and colours in our front garden a few days ago. We’ll be opening the front and back gardens for the National Garden Scheme (NGS) Open Gardens next year again – both our gardens are particularly designed by Jil to have some interest all year around, but they definitely look their very best at the end of May – just after the Chelsea Flower Show!
There’s a lovely mix of Allium, Peony, Iris and Gladiolus at the moment, against the back drop of Box and grasses. I waited for the best light from the early evening sunshine – the image below was at about 6pm. As ever, I used a wide angle lens (28mm) and f/11 to ensure a good depth of field. There was a little wind movement, but about 1/100s shutter speed worked just fine, and the resulting ISO was about 200.
You can see a bigger selection of other garden images in my Gardens Portfolio.
Jil (www.jilaynerickards.com) and I went to the annual Chelsea Flower Show last week, as we do every year.
RHS Members’ Day is always busy, but the crowds do slim out at the end of the day and that time coincided with a lovely evening sunshine, which beautifully enhanced some of the show gardens. It was worth waiting for that low light to break through the sky. The Best in Show garden was a rather brutal collection of Maltese stones, which did not appear to be anyone’s favourite, except the judges and the main sponsor! The first image below shows the popular Chris Beardshaw garden, packed with traditional flowers, while our favourite was the lovely Japanese artisan garden designed by Kazuyuki Ishihara, which is shown in the second image.
Also, as I have noted lots of times on previous blogs, it’s quite awkward to get the whole garden in focus, from 1-2m close up all the way to 20m or more away. Really, the only way is to close the aperture down to f/11 to f/16 and to use a wide angle lens of 24-35mm (on a full-frame camera). On sunny days, it’s then best to use a 35mm lens at f/16 – this also allows a good ISO of 100 and a fast enough shutter speed (>1/100s) to freeze any wind movement. As the light can drop by around 3 stops though, there are then limited options. You need to keep to at least 1/100s to shoot both hand-held and to avoid any wind motion in the plants, but open the ISO up to 400-800, which is just about OK on my Nikon D810 (for reasonably large images).
There’s a fuller selection of other images from Chelsea 2017 in my Gardens Portfolio.
I’ve put another section to my Gardens – Places portfolio to show some Spring images at Hughenden in Buckinghamshire. It’s a lovely Victorian manor house and gardens, which was Benjamin Disraeli’s country retreat from 1848 to 1881. He was a colourful and charismatic man who became Queen Victoria’s favourite Prime Minister. It was meant to be a fresh Spring day with the sun bursting occasionally through the cloud cover, which promised to deliver some good lighting. However, the sun never appeared – so, I had to make the most of the slightly stormy clouds, which did require a bit more work in Lightroom, with the graduated filters and adjustment brushes.
For most shots, I used my D810 with the 24-70mm f/2.8 set at about 30mm. Using 1/100s and f/8 to f/11, I could then use ISOs of 100-200, which was fine. There was a Red Kite flying around for most of the day, which I caught separately on my D7100 with a 70-200mm f/4 lens. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring my 200-500mm f/5.6 lens with me that day – it would have been much better for the Kite images. Using the smaller lens, I had to crop the shots down to about 6MP to get a good enough image. The first shot also shows the Kite flying across the manor house – it’s a fake, I’m afraid, but it could have happened! Clearly, it would normally be very difficult to see a bird of prey (needing a high 1/800s and therefore with a low depth of field f/4) in the same shot as a landscape-style of image (needing a high depth of field f/11 and a therefore a low 1/100s)! But it works as a piece of art, of course – the camera always lies, as I have said a few times.
You can see other views of Hughenden, either in my portfolio here, or in my stock agency portfolio, which you can access from the Home page.
I took some more photos of Buckingham Palace again at dusk last week – see my blog below for the first session. It was a better evening for a lovely sunset and I changed my position so that the yellow/orange/red glows of the sky were now behind the Palace. I didn’t notice the stars at the time, but they certainly showed up on my later images as very visible star trails – the 500 rule about star photographs seems wrong to me as the trails are very visible at the 25-30s that the rule suggests. I would have thought that the exposure needs to be less than half this figure to avoid any noticeable trails on my D810. Maybe the rule’s OK for internet shots, but certainly not for prints at any decent size.
As before, I started off with a 5-stop ND filter and ended up with no filter. This first image was about 45 minutes after sunset and the second one another 15 minutes later – both without any filter.
The images this time were all taken on my slightly wider 16-35mm f/4 lens, generally set at about 19mm. These two exposures were both at 30s, ISO 64 and f/14. The white balance varied from about 4,500K to 7,500K. For the earlier shots, I did also use the adjustment brush to darken the sky by 0.5-1.0 stops.
I also used the Transform tab in Lightroom to best adjust the building verticals – I’ve tried these all before and never found that any of the Auto features offer anything that looks acceptable/realistic. I did make some better adjustments with the Guided feature this time – not using it to its full extent, but just using it partly to balance the verticals both on the Palace itself as well as on the structures towards the edges of the frame.
So, adding in the cloning of Photoshop too, the images were all extensively manipulated!
You can see more of my Buckingham Palace and Westminster images in my Cityscapes Portfolio.
I’ve blogged recently about the differences between the macro/studio shot for garden flowers and the landscape type of shot. There is, of course, also the option to take the studio techniques, with flash, outdoors. I was using this method last week with the Leucojum (or snowflakes) that are currently in full bloom.
I was getting quite close to the flowers, although not really close enough for it to be proper macro-photography – I was just using my standard 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom. This produced magnifications that were fine, although I would need to crop the images quite tightly to then fill the frame with the key components, getting down to ~12MP, which gives 6MB JPEGs. These can easily be printed at A3 still with very high quality (>250ppi).
As I was needing f/11-16 to get enough depth of field (about 100mm) and at least 1/125s to avoid camera shake or subject movement, the ISO would have become 400-800 in these slightly shady areas. So, I used a bit of infill flash to bring the ISO back to 100-200, without killing off too much of the ambient light – I always work in manual mode, where it’s easy to play around with the settings to get the best result on the screen/histogram. I used a separate speedlight on a tripod to the side and set its power to ¼ -½. This flash was controlled from my Nikon D810 acting as a commander unit. I always use back-button focussing too – this gives you the option to manual focus, single focus or continuous focus with just one button.
Finally and most importantly, I wanted a more interesting shot than just a straight flower portrait – generally, you need some good light or an unusual event to make the photo work well, ideally both! So, I added a spray of water, looked for the sparkle or refraction in the drops and then waited for some suitable wildlife – the ladybird helped with the first image, while the spider added some interest to the second shot.
I took some images of Buckingham Palace at dusk last week - I arrived about an hour before sunset and took a sequence of long exposures all the way through to about an hour after sunset. It was meant to be a reasonably clear evening, which should have given an interesting sunset behind the Palace, but it turned out to be considerably more cloudy than I had hoped! All the RAW files looked, as usual, to be a little flat on the screen, but once I had processed them all, the clouds and sky colours did still look pretty good in the end. It’s incredible how quickly the sky changes over that time around sunset – you do really need to be taking pictures every few minutes to make it possible to select the ones that are the most evocative.
I was really trying to capture the moving cars in front of the Palace, to add a bit more of an event to the images, by using a 5-stop ND filter to bump up the exposure time. But the better shots certainly came once it had got darker and the lines of the car lights were then much more pronounced – by this time, I wasn’t using any filter. This first image was about 15 minutes after sunset and the second one another 30 minutes later.
The images were all taken on my 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, generally set at about 26mm. The two exposures varied from 10s to 30s – both at ISO 64 and f/11. In Lightroom, I had to shift the white balance around as the light disappeared - from about 6,000K initially, up to about 10,000K and then back down to about 4,000K. For the earlier shots, I did also use the adjustment brush to darken the sky by 0.5-1.0 stops – I hadn’t used an ND grad on the camera, as the dividing line between the light and dark wasn’t at all straight. I also darkened the highlights and lightened the shadows to pull out the fabulous dynamic range of my D810.
I don’t use Photoshop that much, except for the occasional need to clone out some stray features of a picture. On these images though, the scene was covered not only by rogue tourists, but also by unsightly traffic cones and newly erected security barriers. The long exposure generally got rid of most of the people, but I did need to spend a long time removing all the clutter of inelegant street furniture! This certainly gives a much cleaner and crisper picture – the camera always lies, as they say!
You can see a bigger collection of other Westminster images in my Cityscapes Portfolio.
I have now added another section to my Gardens – Places portfolio to show some Spring images at Ightham Mote in Kent (pronounced Item). It’s a wonderful moated house, which is often described as the most complete small medieval manor house in the country, dating back to about 1320, although it has been modified extensively over the centuries, especially during the Jacobean era of 1550-1625.
It was a lovely Spring day with the sun still quite low in the sky, which always makes for better pictures.
The first shot here shows the fabulous moat that surrounds the house – I stood on the main wall to get this image, using my 16-35mm f/4 lens on the D810. I wanted the widest view without losing too much definition at the widest angle – so, used an 18mm focal length. I also wanted the whole view in focus, from about 0.5m to infinity, which I could get with both this focal length and f/14. It was then bright enough to also use 1/100s and ISO 100.
For the second shot, I had switched back to my 24-70mm f/2.8 lens. To get the daffodils in good view in the foreground, I needed about 1.5m to infinity in focus, which I could get at 30mm and f/11.
You can see lots of other views of Ightham Mote, either in my portfolio here, or in my Alamy or Shutterstock portfolios, which you can access from my Home page.
Just added a new section to my Gardens - Places portfolio to cover some early Spring shots at Chartwell in Kent. Chartwell was Winston Churchill’s country home, where he did much painting, landscaping and garden creating. Early Spring just has some hints of colour whilst the main structure of the garden and grounds are still visible.
As ever, waiting for some low light and/or stormy skies was the key to capturing the more interesting images. National Trust properties like this are difficult as you cannot get in to the grounds in the really early morning or late afternoon for the very best lighting conditions – so, you have to wait for the best type of light during a typical day.
I’ve started to always carry two cameras with me now, as the process of constantly changing lenses to suit different shots, subjects or lighting conditions has often meant that I’ve not had the right lens on at the right time! This time, I carried my lovely 24-70mm f/2.8 on a Nikon D810 and the 70-200mm f/4 on my D7100. This latter lens operates as an effective 105-300mm lens on the DX camera, which is useful for the wildlife images that you can often take whilst capturing landscape/garden pictures.
Otherwise, there wasn’t too much to consider technically. I used about f/11, ISO 100-200 and around 1/100s on the D810 for the wider shots, and f/4, ISO 100-200 and about 1/500s on the D7100 for the wildlife shots.
I’ve posted quite a lot of Westminster pictures on Twitter recently, including ones with the Churchill statue overlooking the Houses of Parliament – so, it was nice to have the utter contrast of the peaceful countryside setting where he often came to get away from the restless pace of political life.
With my last blogs about Snowdrops and Waterdrops, you may wonder why I hadn’t used a macro lens. A macro lens certainly gets you very close to the object, i.e. within a 200-300mm, which puts the object almost touching the lens, but its strict definition is that the object is the same size on the sensor (a 1:1 ratio) at the closest focus distance. For DX or FX sensors, this means that the object should be less than about 25mm in size. This is the size of insects and very small flowers, but normal flowers and waterdrops with their ripples are much larger than 25mm – so, a normal lens is fine.
The main issue with macro-photography is the very limited depth of field (DoF), which may be 10mm or less at this 1:1 ratio, even at f/16. As noted in the last two blogs, my DoF for the snowdrops and waterdrops was 75-100mm at f/11-16 with my 50mm prime lens focussed at about 0.5m. This was a good working DoF that captured enough of the image in focus, although it would be better to have been twice as close to avoid cropping so much.
I could therefore have used a 100mm lens but its closest focus distance is 1m – at that distance, the image is the same size as a 50mm at 0.5m anyway. Crucially too, the DoF is only dependent on magnification and aperture. Magnification is indeed based on focal length and focus distance, but at the same magnification, you get the same DoF. So, a 50mm lens at 0.5m gives 100mm DoF at f/16, and a 100mm lens at 1.0m gives 100mm too. As soon as you get closer by this factor of two, i.e. a 50mm at 0.25m or a 100mm at 0.5m (both of which would need to be macro lenses), the DoF drops to 25mm, which does not then capture the scene, without focus-stacking and all that!
It’s therefore better to take the images on a normal 50mm lens and crop them – the 36MP image from my D810 then gets cropped to about 9MP to make it fill the frame, i.e. by zooming in by this same factor of two. This solution maintains the 100mm DoF and produces an image that can still be printed easily at A4 size at really high quality (300ppi). Whereas a landscape photo might need the full 36MP to be printed at A1/A0, this sort of image would generally not be used above an A4 size, which makes the cropping fine.
You can now see some other versions of these waterdrop images below and yet more in my Abstract portfolio.
Continuing my studio and flash theme, I’ve been looking at how to capture waterdrops using high-speed flash synchronisation. It took a lot of trial and error, especially with the lighting, to eventually get some decent images. Like wildlife photography, it’s difficult to capture the moment and just as difficult to get everything sharply in focus!
For wildlife, you need wide apertures (f/5.6 on a telephoto) and high shutter speeds (<1/1000s), which often then gives high ISOs of 400-1600. With studio flash though, the shutter speed is irrelevant as it’s the very short flash duration of a speedlight that generates the speed. So, like photographing snowdrops (see my last blog), you can set the aperture to f11-16 to get enough depth of field, the ISO to 100-200 for best image quality and the shutter to 1/320s, which kills the ambient light and is the fastest flash sync speed. Both these typical wildlife and studio set-ups produce depth of fields of less than 100mm – hence the difficulty with focus.
The real key is to set the speedlights on their lowest power, which for my Nikon SB-700s is 1/128 – at this power the flash duration is 1/40,000s, i.e. way faster than any shutter. Once you have this very low power though, the flash speedlights need to be very close to the waterdrop location (inverse square law and all that!). Given the depth of field and speed requirements, the only ways left to control the light are the ISO and the distance. With two speedlights placed at about 150mm away, the set-up worked OK with an ISO of 100-200. The flashes should be placed to light the backdrop or the background - both my flashes were then controlled from my Nikon D810 acting as a commander unit. I had to play around with the speedlight zoom and illumination pattern settings for a while to get a nice even light.
From the first session, I picked out this one below as the best but you will be able see some other versions shortly in my Abstract portfolio.
The snowdrops are all in flower again – it’s mild and windy at the moment, but they can cope with any of February’s harshest frosts. Being quite small flowers, they are always difficult to photograph – you either need a large swathe of them or you need to be very close to pick out a single stem. Capturing them outside can be tricky too – the very limited depth of field being the main problem. You need f/11-16 to get enough in focus and it needs to be nice and calm too, as the wind can be a real issue with movement. Even on a bright day, it only just about works. Once it’s dull, you have to up the ISO or slow the shutter speed, neither of which is great.
So, I decided to opt for the studio shot instead. Being a landscape and wildlife photographer, I haven’t really used much studio or flash work before – so, it was a good time to experiment!
Using my 50mm prime lens which can focus down to about 450mm, I needed at least f/11 to get enough depth of field – you get about 75mm at f/11, but only 50mm at f/8 and a tiny 25mm at f/4. So, I used f/11-16. I set the ISO to its lowest level of 64 for the highest quality. With the shutter set at the sync speed of 1/320, I knew that the ambient light would be killed off and that I’d be totally reliant on the flash lighting. The only controls left to manage the lighting are thus the flash power and distance.
I used my two Nikon SB-700 speedlights and set the scene up as you would a studio portrait, with the main lighting in the front at 450 to the camera. I put a diffuser on that flash to soften its effect and had the power on about ½. I was then trying to get some other lighting effects from the second flash. I could either put it at an angle behind the flower (covered in water drops) to get some sparkling in the water drops – as you can see in the first image. Ideally though, I was trying to get some rainbow effects in the water drops by putting the second flash at a 450 angle in front of the flower – this wasn’t quite as successful as I had hoped, but you can see some rainbow effects in the second image. Strictly, a spherical water drop will always subtend an angle of 420 between the light source and the observer. I used a harder light on this second flash and set its power to ¼ -½. Both flashes were then controlled from my Nikon D810 acting as a commander unit.
I was pleased with them all in the end and you can see some other versions of these studio images in my Gardens-Seasons portfolio.
It’s been a year since I first started uploaded pictures to a couple of Stock Agencies. At the start, I was trying to add quite a number of older photographs and my acceptance rate for the first few hundred was about 50% - most of those were failing on either exposure (or white balance), noise or focus.
All up nowadays, I can get close to all my images being accepted. I still need to add lots more though, as you need to be selling thousands of images to make it worthwhile, not just hundreds. The images, of course, also have to be suitable for commercial use, i.e. taken from public land and of public places! Private photos of people or private buildings, or anything from private land, cannot be used. As a result you do need to remove any recognisable people from all the images - any trademarks or logos must be removed too.
Basically, I take pictures of what I like, mainly landscapes and wildlife, and then try to sell those images. Strangely though, my best seller so far is this flag from the Canadian Rockies – not my greatest shot as the lighting is nothing special, but this one of Big Ben, which really is a real favourite of mine, is my second best seller.
Have a look at my Portfolio below for a bigger selection of other images.
To finish the blogs about Fistral Beach, here are a couple of close-ups of the evening surfers. There were a number of windy days that ended with lovely orange sunsets – either way, the surfers continued surfing well in to it being dark, for easily an hour after sunset. I did capture several moments when the orange and yellow sunset was glistening on the waters as they all waited for the next waves, or then caught a wave.
I used the fabulous 200-500mm f/5.6 Nikon lens on my D7100, with high shutter speeds of 1/500-1/1000 to capture any motion on the water and the lens wide open at f/5.6. I also used the ISO-Auto to help get the right exposure in rapidly changing light conditions – the ISO varying from 100-640 as the light changed.
The detail produced with this lens wide open at f/5.6, and at all focal lengths, is really exceptional, especially at low ISOs. You do have to be a little careful with the focus point though, as the depth of field is quite small, typically +/- 5m when focussing 50-100m away. Even though the VR on the lens is fantastic, it’s also best to switch it off when using shutter speeds that do not need it to be on!
I tend to use my Nikon D7100 (a DX camera with a cropped sensor) for these sporty or wildlife photographs and my Nikon D810 (an FX camera with a full-frame sensor) for landscape photos. I know that there’s a debate about whether DX or FX bodies are best for wildlife photography. In essence, you can argue that the DX body gives you a longer reach, i.e. my 200-500mm lens gives the same image size as a 300-750mm lens on an FX camera, and that the DX sensor has a greater pixel density with more pixels/mm (~250) compared to the FX sensor on my D810 (at ~200 pixels/mm). Alternatively, it’s a more valid argument to note that the FX sensor has more and larger photosites/pixels, giving better overall quality, better ISO performance, less noise and a better dynamic range.
Either way, it suits me to have longer lenses (200-500mm f/5.6) on my D7100 and shorter lenses (16-35mm f/4, 24-70mm f/2.8 and 70-200mm f/4) on my D810.
You can see more of these surfing images in my Abstract Portfolio.
As noted in my last blog, I captured a number of great sunset shots in Newquay last October too.
Waiting for the right moments is essentially the key – the sun to be low enough in the sky, the clouds to be in a good place to give dramatic light effects or great swathes of stormy darkness, the reflections on the sea to be strong and finally, something to be happening in the frame – surfers surfing or people walking in the rock pools, or something else of interest…..
Getting the exposure right is always tricky too – the light can be similar to a sunny day if you expose for the main highlights, whereas it can be easily 5 stops less if you expose for the main shadows. It all depends what effect you want in the final picture. Luckily with the fabulous sensor on my Nikon D810, I know that I can expose for whatever I want and the camera will capture pretty much all the detail and colour with almost no noise (at ISO 64 especially). Often the real peaks of the highlights will be at least 5 stops brighter than the mid-range and the real depths of the shadows at least 5 stops darker, giving a dynamic range of 10 stops, or more – similar to the 10 Zones that Ansel Adams used (though not quite, as his system referred to printing). However, whereas that sort of range is more than the 5-8 stops that a modern phone or compact camera can record, it is not more than the 14 stops that my full-frame FX sensor can pick up.
So, you can spot meter for the main highlights and get a view, spot meter for the main shadows similarly or go somewhere in between. Most of my shots are neither low-key nor high-key, as the stock agencies where I sell most of them tend to prefer normal mid-range lighting images. Therefore, I work on the mid-range but expose to the right (ETTR) with the histogram as best I can, in order to capture the highest quality of data in the images – but this is perhaps only 1 stop brighter so as to avoid blowing out too many of the highlights. As I also work in RAW, there is always more to find in the images than the histogram might suggest (as it’s based on a simple JPG). I then work in Lightroom by dodging and burning to produce as natural-looking a picture as I can.
You can see some of the other sunset images from Cornwall in my Landscapes Portfolio.
I took lots of photographs last autumn around Fistral Beach in Newquay – Cornwall is fabulous in October time – wild and stormy but not too cold and not as packed as during the summer.
This first batch of daytime shots was taken in the late afternoon sun, which is pleasantly low in the sky to give good lighting and depth to the scenes. All were taken with my 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, which is fabulous although it can be a little soft if used at its extremes, especially at 24mm. Otherwise, focussing is not difficult as with that range of focal lengths the hyperfocal distance at f/11 is 3-10m – so, as long as you focus on something more than that distance (say, 20m away), everything is in focus from about 5m to infinity, which suited my images just fine. Best to focus some good distance beyond the hyperfocal, otherwise you lose the far distance point very quickly. I kept the shutter speed generally up above about 1/400s to capture the spray in the surf – but this did occasionally push the ISO up to 200-400.
I was then generally pushing the histogram as far right as possible (ETTR - but only with the lowest ISO of 64) – see my last blog about Ansel Adams. In Lightroom, I can then solve these high contrast images by burning/darkening the highlights (with overall adjustments, by using the graduated filter or adjustment brush/mask) and dodging/lightening the shadows. The dynamic range of my D810 is so high (about 14EV ?) that you can make all these adjustments with no obvious loss of quality, even at 100%. I still use Lee Filters graduated filters when possible to control the dynamic range of the scene, but many times I can get exactly the same result just with Lightroom. No point using filters to block out the light when a) the sensor can cope with the range and b) you are happy to use ETTR anyway !
You can see some of the other images from Cornwall in my Landscapes Portfolio, and I’ll be posting some sunset shots shortly.
I took a set of photographs around the Hyde Park area this week – it was in the middle of the day, but the sun was still quite low in the sky and it was very clear (and cold), giving some very nice lighting conditions. I also used my new fast prime lens throughout – a lovely but simple 50mm f/1.4. Almost everything was shot at ISO 100 at about f/11 and 1/125s – the detail and clarity in the images from my Nikon D810 at 100% is stunning across the whole frame, which is just what I wanted and expected ! I look forward to using this lens more – for both low-light conditions and great bokeh.
Having got an Ansel Adams book of photographs for Xmas, I was also experimenting with some techniques for best quality exposure – basically, exposing for the highlights and developing the shadows (which is the opposite of what Adams used to do for black and white film, but is correct for the digital age) and then also pushing the exposure as far right as possible (ETTR), without blowing out the highlights. I’ll talk about these ideas in a bit more detail in a future blog about Cornish seascapes.
Anyway, I got pictures of the majestic swans on the Serpentine, of the wonderfully golden Albert Memorial, the Royal Albert Hall and then the Wellington Arch down by Hyde Park Corner. I remember Professor Sir Alan Harris telling us in the first year of my MSc course at Imperial College (just behind the Royal Albert Hall) back in about 1982 that the Albert Memorial and the Royal Albert Hall both cost about the same to build ! We see the Royal Albert Hall as a very grand structure nowadays, but in reality it was quite a utilitarian building at the time – built for about £200k in 1871. In contrast, the Albert Memorial is extraordinarily ornate – built for about £120k in 1875. A fascinating balance in the age-old debate about form and function, i.e. Vitruvius’s venustas and utilitas from about 50BC – have a quick look at my paper from The Structural Engineer in the Bridge Consultant section of this website, which highlights this issue in relation to landmark bridge design.
You can then see some of the other images from this day in Hyde Park in my Cityscapes Portfolio.
I took some further images of Tower Bridge at dusk early last October, but have only just finished processing them ! I arrived about an hour before sunset and took a sequence of long exposures all the way through to about an hour after sunset. I didn’t notice the stars in the later shots at the time, but they definitely showed up on my sensor.
I was really trying to capture the moving river boats on the water, to add a bit more of an event to the images – a great picture often has some unusual event caught in dramatic lighting conditions. The images were all taken on my 16-35mm f/4 wide-angle lens, generally set at about 30mm. The best exposure for me was for about 20 seconds. At ISO 64 and f/16, this meant that at the beginning of the shoot, I needed about 5 stops of my ND filters, whereas by the time it was dark, I didn’t need any filter. For the shots with the moon, I reduced the exposure to about 5 seconds to avoid the movement in the moon/stars that you can easily see at 20 seconds – I opened up to f/11 and bumped up the ISO a touch to 160 to suit. In hindsight, I should have opened up the aperture a touch more to f/8, as the image is a little noisy at full size in the areas of dark sky, even with the fabulous full-frame sensor and a suitable amount of noise reduction in Lightroom. I would have still got everything in focus from about 2m to infinity, as long as I focussed on something about 5-10m away.
The sequence of three is interesting - going from a sunburst shot taken about 30 minutes before sunset, to the dramatic moving red lights of the river boat that was taken about 30 minutes after sunset, to the final photograph taken a full hour after sunset that combines the drama of the lights on the bridge with the boat lights and the moon/stars.
Virtually all I had to do in Lightroom was to shift the white balance from about 5,000K for the first few images gradually up to about 8,000K and then back down to about 4,000K for the last few. I also darkened the highlights and lightened the shadows to pull out the massive dynamic range of my Nikon D810.
You can see a bigger collection of other Tower Bridge images in my Cityscapes Portfolio.