Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Cold Foggy Canberra Dawn

A trip to Canberra at the weekend, and a hotel conveniently just 5 minutes from the War Memorial, gave me the opportunity to leave my wife snuggled up warm as toast in bed, while I ventured out into the sub-zero pre-dawn streets to get some sunrise pictures.  First of all, let me admit that having spent 6 years in Australia has made me soft and I'd forgotten what 'cold' is... though I'm sure that there are many other photographers around the world that cope with far colder conditions than the -2C that I did that morning.

I arrived at the War Memorial a little before 7am, and had in mind to get a time-exposure of the building still illuminated by the lights, but with some light in the sky.  I found a good spot and got the camera and tripod setup, but then just as I was ready to go, the lights all went out - so that shot got struck off my list.

Behind me, looking down Anzac Parade, there was a wall of fog across Lake Burley Griffin, hiding Parliament House.  With no cars on the road, it was quite an impressive sight with just the flagstaff visible above the fog, but then the sun rose enough to just catch the flagstaff and give a golden reflection off one side.  Luckily, I had the camera setup in that direction.  This is straight off the camera, with no colour correction applied, so a lot of the foreground is very blue whereas in reality, the fog bank appeared very white - I need to do a bit of PP work on it still.

The next shot I had hoped to get was of the sun rising over the hill behind the War Memorial - the effect I had in mind was a deep blue sky and brilliant burst of golden sunlight coming over the silhouetted hill, and the War Memorial in the foreground.  But I wanted the building illuminated (either artificially or by a time-exposure).  As you can see - it didn't pan out the way I wanted...  I am pleased with the sky, sun, hill, tree exposure, but completely lost the building itself.  I tried another shot exposed for a meter reading off the building frontage, but in that one the sky got completely blown out, and the sunburst was drowned out by reflections/refractions/dust particles.  I took a number of different exposures, at both extremes of the scale, and may try combining them with an HDR type tool (see below), or by just careful erasing of superimposed layers (more late nights with Photoshop obviously required).

I wanted a couple of other shots as well - one (obviously) of the building illuminated at night, and another looking along the Roll of Honour, focused on a foreground poppy with the wall and poppies extending off into the distance and out of focus - I can see it in my mind's eye - just need the correct execution.  However, other priorities (we were there for a family occasion after all) meant that I didn't get to the War Memorial either during opening hours or at night (getting up at 6am for the dawn shoot was bad enough - without another visit at 2am!).  I obviously need to plan another trip... :D

Till next time...  Happy Snapping.

Oops - forgot to explain HDR...
I'm not entirely clear of all the teckie details but as a basic explanation it combines multiple images with varying exposures, and sort of averages them out, taking the best from each - so it replicates better what our eyes see with the benefit of our built in processor units that automatically adjust for shadows and bright areas.  It's not a very good explanation - so I'd suggest looking at this article in wikipedia - the first set of sample shots illustrates the process far more eloquently than I can ;-)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


I haven't had much of a chance to get out and do any photography over the last couple of weeks, but I have a trip to Canberra soon, and hope to get some photo opportunities then.  So I figured that I ought to add somethying to the blog otherwise I'm in danger of having the whole month go by with just a single article... NOT the way to encourage one's readers to come back for more! 

So with no new photos to play with, and having exhausted the few good ones I have already, I was having a look at flickr (no - I don't have an account - or rather, I DIDN'T have an account - probably one of the few people in the world that has resisted both facebook and flickr thus far), just to see what all the hype is about.  I already had a Yahoo Messenger account from years ago, and somehow when I went to the flickr homepage just to have a look, I suddenly found myself with a flickr account being created... I don't remember asking it to do it, but I'm just a poor old man, my sight is dim, my eyes are poor (my nose is nackered) - who knows what buttons I accidentally clicked :-o

Well, once it had gone to all that trouble on my behalf, it seemed a bit churlish not to reciprocate, so I uploaded a photo.  It was so easy, I did another one, and another... "Whoa there," I thought to myself "let's not get carried away... I never actually wanted this in the first place".... so I created a couple of 'sets' to put my photos in. It was too late - I was getting carried away! Having created some sets, I needed to post more photos to fill them - and so it snowballed (in a very minor way compared to some people - I have a grand total of 16 photos, which have been viewed 41 times at the time of writing - others have thousands and thousands of pictures).

A couple of friends of mine in NZ then left me some comments on a few pictures, and even added a couple to their collections of favourites (I am sure they were just being kind to me, to make me feel welcome)...  I added them as 'friends' and now I see their latest pictures on my page (as does anyone else that navigates to my page - I think).

Then, I got invited to join a group - OMG!  A new frenzy of activity started... as well as having my photos in my photostream, and categorised into sets, I could now share them with the group.  Then I found out that many groups are public, and don't actually need an invite for you to join them... Woohoo - so off I went on a search for other groups that might appreciate my pictures.  I think I've joined up with about half a dozen now, each specialising in something or other, from long-exposures and night time cityscapes, to anything taken with a Nikon D3000... (I also found one for the pics I took with my daughter's D40x before I got my own camera).

I'd been happily trundling along like this for a few days, when 'bang', another little surprise... someone found a picture I had posted just in my own photostream, by a search matching a tag I had given it.  I got a nice little note saying they would love to include my picture in their group's collection, and also inviting me to enter it in a competition they are running this month... well, hey! That suits me just fine :D

Yup - now I know why I tried to resist for so long... I haven't even had the account for a week yet, but I'm already checking my homepage at least 4 or 5 times a day to see if there are any more comments or messages, or if anyone has added my pictures to their 'faves' and so on.  And when there was a whole day with no new messages, I went off in search of new groups and new audiences to hang my wares in front of... Yes, I'm hooked good and proper.

If anyone's interested, I've added my flickr site to the list of links at the side of the blog - feel free to drop by and have a browse (it won't take you long - unless you get sidetracked into looking at the photos of my contacts as well, or the groups that I belong to - which after all, is the whole point of flickr - and facebook come to that - in the first place) and leave me some comments, or perhaps link me to YOUR flickr site.

Until the next time... (hopefully with some actual photos!)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Fill-in Flash and Bokeh

I was out for a walk today, and being mid-winter here in Australia, the sun was low in the sky, and yet the sky was blue and not a cloud in sight.  Looking out across the harbour, the sun was reflecting off the water brightly, and I was trying various ways of shooting into the light.  Then, I came across this seagull, sitting on a post, and I was able to position myself so that it was against all that sparkling water - the effect I was after is called Bokeh.  You've all seen it - you probably just didn't know it has a name... it's the effect you get when a point of light is massively out of focus.  What happens is that the out of focus 'blob' of light adopts the shape of the hole through which light is entering the camera.  In most cases, that will be pretty much a circle, or a roughly circular something-agon (depending on the number of blades in the iris of the lens - the more blades, the closer to a true circle it will be).  So, because I was focused quite tightly on the gull just three feet away from me, and those sparkles were way out in the harbour, even at f/8 they were very unfocused and I was able to see some Bokeh effect.  You can see it especially to the right of the gull's head.

Bokeh can be used a little more creatively than just blurry circles of light forming a backdrop.  By cutting a circle of black card that will fit inside a filter screwed to the lens, and then cutting a shape (a star for example) out of the middle of the circle - you have an instant Bokeh maker.  Just slip the circle of card over the lens, and screw on the filter to keep it in place, then go out in search of some sparkles (for those of you with Point and Shoots - you may need to use some other means of mounting the card to the lens - you could try Blu-Tak, but I'd avoid taping it on - also beware of lenses that retract into the camera behind little slidey doors - don't want to accidentally gum those up with any sticky stuff when the camera unexpectedly switches itself off while your Bokeh card is still attached). 

Any pinpoints of light will do - distant street lights, xmas tree lights, sparkly reflections on Sydney Harbour...  As soon as you defocus them, they will adopt the shape you cut in the card.  Give it a try and have some fun - try theming your Bokeh maker with the photos, like hearts for a luvvy-duvvy couple portrait ;-)  Also try cutting bigger holes and small ones to see what difference it makes, or try cutting several holes in one bit of card.

Now, while I was pleased to get the Bokeh I wanted, sadly, there was just too much of it, and it was too bright over most of the photo - so much so, that on the uncropped version the seagull almost looked like it was in silhouette.  I retrieved it somewhat by cropping out a lot of the very bright reflections to the left, but I was still left with a rather grey looking seagull, which in reality was brilliant white (Dulux would have been proud of it).  What I should have done, was popped up the flash.  You might think it strange using the flash in such bright conditions, but remember - I was shooting into the sun, so anything facing the camera was hidden in its own shadow.  In these circumstances, by letting the flash go off as well, you can illuminate the shady side of your subject to lose some of that silhouette look.  I wish I'd thought about it at the time, so I could have posted a with and without comparison.

My lesson learned for today?  Think about flash when shooting a subject against the sun.

Until next time...
happy Snapping.