Shaw House

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John – John Beardsworth

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John – John Beardsworth

Author

I’ve written about 10 books on digital photography, the latest two being published in 2014, but unlike most authors of books on the topic I didn’t start my writing career as a photographer or even as a graphic artist. In 2003 DSLRs were coming of age and I mentioned on my blog that I had just bought a Nikon D100. This blog post led to the opportunity to write the first of my three books on digital B&W.

Before then I had been a “suit” and photography was just a hobby. But while I loved darkroom printing, my career had taken me to the printing press manufacturers Heidelberg where I became familiar with Photoshop from about 1990. So my digital skills had built up gradually following a “wet and dry” practice of scanning negatives and shooting slides and processing them on computer.

Advanced Digital Black and White Photography is probably my favourite book. Partly that’s because I know it had a few big firsts – the first to show Lightroom for black and white, to feature Photoshop’s black and white panel, to include SilverEfex, and the first book to teach smart object workflows. It’s still bang up to date.

Consultant

At the risk of destroying any artistic credibility I may possess, I have a murky past – as a spreadsheet warrior. After qualifying as a chartered accountant I spent two decades in a suit until learning to program Excel gradually allowed me to loosen the tie and start digging my way out of that career. Eventually I found myself in financial IT consulting and implementing big accounting systems, OLAP cubes and “business intelligence”, migrating databases. The skills and aptitude to manage lots of data can be applied just as readily to managing photos and the field of “digital asset management”, then into improving clients’ Lightroom productivity, and designing web sites (my site is 20 years old in 1997). But after using it for 27 years, I do know Photoshop pretty well too.

I have moved all my newer Lightroom content over to my other web site, Lightroom Solutions.

#2016top3 3/3 – Grange Crags

Grange CragsThe third of my #2016top3 favourite images, a birch and bracken on Grange Crags, has in fact already been on the blog. It was from mid January and I like it so much because I remember how the scene was quite different when I first noticed it, but then developed exactly as I’d hoped.

I was actually on Grange Crags planning to take a wide angle view looking in exactly the opposite direction, across Derwentwater to Skiddaw. But while I was waiting I noticed a line of birches in the sun that contrasted against the trees in the shadow of Grange Fell. There was one birch that I could isolate – I like compositions involving negative space – but I just didn’t like how the entire foreground was in sunlight. Things only came together when the sun began to set and I noticed a shadow moving up the bracken. From then on it was a matter of waiting and hoping the shadow would continue in that direction, almost exactly parallel to the slope.

I liked the photo so much that I posted about it earlier in the year, but I never got round to posting the photograph I had actually intended to take that afternoon. So here it is, taken almost an hour after the picture of the birch.

Grange Crags

Sunset over Skiddaw and Derwentwater from Grange Crags

 

#2016top3 2/3 – Honister Pass

You’re looking up the Honister Pass from the Buttermere side, and the lights at the top belong to the quarry.

It’s a scene I’ve shot in daytime with the light coming down the valley and picking out the curves of the wet road, but the idea of shooting it at night has been in the back of my mind for a while. Usually in the evenings I just want to eat, read, review the day’s pictures, nip to the pub. In November though it was getting dark well before pub time and it was also very mild for the time of year, so this was an ideal opportunity to get the shot.

The first attempt didn’t turn out too well. The light trails were soft, and I’m unsure if it was because a tripod leg may have been slightly loose or because I was finding it too dark to focus with the Fuji. But helped me work out the rough exposure time – and prepare for long waits between cars.

It’s a combination of two 75 second exposures with my Nikon D800. I had already been waiting half an hour before a car appeared. It headed up the valley and then stopped half way, so that was the end of the first exposure. Almost immediately another car started coming down and this second exposure stopped just before the white headlight trails reached the red ones left by the first car’s rear lights. I did take another exposure which recorded the second car as it came all the way down, but I prefer them this way.

#2016top3 1/3 Rainbows

Double rainbow over Derwentwater from Ashness Jetty

In the last few days there’s been a Twitter hashtag going round, #2016top3, for your favourite 3 landscapes of the year, and as I had joined in I thought it was a good excuse to get myself back into posting to this blog.

I like to get up to Borrowdale early each November. It can be risky, and last year I got one day of sun and mist followed by a week of solid rain. Or you can be too late and a big storm has blown away all the leaves. But this time I really hit “peak Autumn”. The landscape was full of autumnal colour, and mist / fog / sun / snow had been perfect conditions for photography, but this picture came on the one day when it was raining and I was just taking it easy.

That morning during a break in the rain I spent an hour or so playing around with close-ups of the carpet of red maple leaves in the back garden. Sun kept breaking through, and I remember noticing a rainbow over Castle Crag, but it soon vanished and I would have been perfectly satisfied if those red leaves had been all I’d photographed that day. So when I set off for Keswick I wasn’t thinking of rainbows – it just seemed a good time to nip into Booths supermarket.

Nothing in particular made me stop as I passed Ashness jetty, just the thought that the day was short, but the rainbow appeared the very moment I went down the steps. The picture was taken on my Fuji X-T2 (I’m preparing a hands on review) and was only gently adjusted in Lightroom. At the time I was awestruck by the brightness of “the rainbow” and I didn’t even notice the second one. It just left me thinking that with photography sometimes it’s inspiration that comes looking for you.

Church architecture

Not being religious doesn’t stop me appreciating the architecture of our churches, and over the last few years I’ve visited some of England’s major cathedrals and abbeys. One surprise has been to learn how often destruction plays a part – from the scissors arch added to bolster Wells, to Ely’s octagonal tower, and even Lincoln cathedral bears signs of earthquake damage. Man’s best efforts to worship are so often at the mercy of nature.

Fuji XT-2 – an easy camera to like

X-T2_BK_18-55mm_FrontLeft_White-590x480I can’t be the only photographer whose head has been turned by the new Fuji XT-2, and this week I had a great chance to play with one at Fixation in Vauxhall. So if anyone else is wobbling or wondering – and if anyone still reads this blog – I thought I’d jot down my impressions.

Bear in mind that I’m not very familiar with Fuji bodies or indeed with electronic viewfinders (EVF), and my most recent hands-on experience of either was after the XT-1’s release. I was also limited to handling the camera and wasn’t let loose to use it in practice!

  • In the hand
    • Robust feel and it wasn’t too small in my big hands.
    • I didn’t particularly like the grip which felt angular and big – adding 50% to the body’s height.
    • I much preferred holding the camera without the grip and it felt very comfortable with the 18-55mm lens.
  • I was a little concerned about its heavy battery usage
    • This would be mitigated by getting the grip with its two extra batteries.
    • As 4K video is an attraction of the camera, I can understand why one would get the grip.
  • Electronic viewfinder
    • The updating speed made it barely noticeable – very impressive compared to when I last played with an EVF.
    • I liked how the EVF showed the effect of changing aperture, shutter speed or ISO. I imagine that comment is no surprise, if you’ve used an EVF much more than I have, but I felt myself thinking about how I would use it in practice.
  • Key controls
    • Liked the dials for shutter speed and ISO
    • Really liked the aperture ring on the lens – that takes me back!
    • Quickly got used to changing aperture, shutter speed or ISO without taking my eye from the viewfinder
    • Enjoyed the focus points – quickly figured it out
    • Liked the one click zoom in for critical focus
  • I liked the 3-way articulated LCD and felt it was sufficient for holding the camera high, low, or more importantly at waist level for covert photographs or for simply maintaining eye contact
  • No built-in flash – on the other hand, I’m an available light photographer
Sept 12th Update: Uh oh

Sept 12th Update: Uh oh

So will I get one?

Not sure, might do, but the doubt has little to do with the XT-2, which I immediately liked very much.

It’s really that I’ve no great desire to move from Nikon or change my D800, and I am unsure if I really want to carry a second camera body. It’s handy when you need different focal lengths, and I did feel that it wouldn’t be hard to use the Fuji and Nikon at the same event. Unlike using different bodies from the same camera maker, these two would be so different that I would never be confused. The other worry is if I would be able to limit myself to just an XT-2 and a single lens.

We’ll see.

Cumbria’s open for business

Grange Crags

Sunset in Borrowdale from Grange Crags

After my November trip to the Lake District, the weather seemed to get worse by the day. Shortly afterwards, my brother and his family were almost  cut off by flooding, and that was before the really serious rainfall arrived at the start of December.

Still, I was up there again in January. So early in the year, it was hard to gauge the effect on visitors, but don’t be deterred by what you may have seen on TV.

The closure of the main A591 between Keswick and Grasmere is both spectacular and devastating, and from a visitor’s viewpoint it means you can’t easily get between the Southern/Central Lakes and those in the North. So you choose one side or the other.

At a more mundane level, the damage is more subtle and inconvenient than you may think. So for instance, one location above Lodore Falls was unreachable because the footbridge was in a dangerous state, or Watendlath Bridge is spoiled by scaffolding and a temporary crossing. The flooding hit both of Keswick’s supermarkets, but as I say, that is inconvenient to the visitor and is little trouble compared to those faced by the poor people whose houses were flooded. That area of Keswick is dark at night, and some debris is piled up, but most places are open and they deserve support – so have that third pint you weren’t going to order!

This picture was taken on my second day when I was looking in the other direction and hoping for a sunset to catch the snow on Skiddaw. Looking around, I had noticed a line of birches in full sunlight and they contrasted nicely with those on the steep Grange Fell behind, but it was only once I saw how the shadow was moving up the slope that I started shooting pictures.

If I had been in any doubt about a trip in January, it was gone in those moments. And if you’re thinking of a trip, the Lakes are open for business. The fells haven’t been washed away, and the lakes are certainly not running dry.

 

 

Bad Trip on Derwentwater

splash screen

The ugliest Photoshop splash screen ever?

After the recent terrible flooding in the Lake District, you can see the region at its best or, thanks to CGI, at even more than its best in the new Star Wars which uses Thirlmere, Derwentwater and Watendlath for scenery. Well spotted, Colin Bell.

Unfortunately, part of Derwentwater is also used for the splash screen of Photoshop’s latest version which includes a view looking along the Keswick landing stages. You can see some jetty poles, and Hope Park and Skiddaw are in the background on the right (see location on map).

Without getting too deep, splash screens set one’s mood and perhaps one’s aspirations, and in the past Photoshop has featured feathers or raindrops or exploding crystals or other images that conveyed the amazing power of this application. This one, apart from desecrating a location I know well, seems to set the bar at the much lower level of Instagram or Snapseed? It must be the ugliest Photoshop splash screen ever, don’t you think?

It’s a shame because, for the record as they say, I happen to like the new features in Photoshop such as the new Welcome panel, Generator, and Libraries. These cloud-enabled features are now coming together and amounting to something that’s more than the sum of their parts. But when anyone asks me what’s new in this version, the first thing that comes to mind is this horrid splash screen.

Using the splash screen to showcase users’ creativity isn’t a bad idea, and in my opinion Lightroom 6.3’s current “blue face” is a great choice, for example. But isn’t it obvious that sometimes they are bound to choose an image that provokes negative reactions in some users? After all, if you let me decorate your office, it would be no surprise if sometimes you saw little virtue in my choice and would want to tear it off the wall. If you’re going to insert someone else’s idea of art into my daily experience, you’ve got to let me cover it up. if I choose.

Sadly unlike the office wall there is no simple way – and I have looked hard – for us to switch off Photoshop’s splash screen, revert to a generic blue rectangle, or substitute our own work – which you can do in Lightroom. While I’ve no doubt some people may like the image and find their creative juices rising like the Greta or Eden rivers, for the next 6 months every time I go into Photoshop I’m going to be confronted with this Bad Trip on Derwentwater, or whatever it’s called. You know, I’d rather see pictures of the floods.