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 fact I got into this in 2003 after I had bought my first digital camera, a Nikon D100, and mentioned it on my blog. It was a time when DSLRs were coming of age, so this led to the opportunity to write my first book on digital black and white, and I’ve written 3 other books on B&W.
Before then I had been a “suit” and photography had been just a hobby. I loved darkroom work, but I could see the direction things were going and my career had taken me to the printing press manufacturers Heidelberg where I had begun getting familiar with Photoshop about 1990. So my digital skills built up gradually using a “wet and dry” practice of scanning negatives and slides, but processing them on computer.
Advanced Digital Black and White Photography is probably my favourite. Partly that’s because I know it had a few big firsts – the first book to show Lightroom for black and white, the first to show Photoshop’s black and white panel, and the first to show SilverEfex and smart object workflows. It’s still bang up to date.
To destroy any artistic credibility I may possess, my murky past contains many years as a spreadsheet warrior, a chartered accountant in fact. Eventually, creating complex spreadsheets allowed me to start digging my way out of that career. Learning how to program and automate Excel eventually led me to financial IT consulting and implementing big accounting systems, OLAP cubes and “business intelligence”, migrating databases. Surprisingly, at least to some people, these skills and aptitudes lend themselves to managing lots of photos and the field of “digital asset management”, improving clients’ Lightroom productivity, and designing web sites. But after 25 years, I do know Photoshop pretty well too.
My Lightroom scribblings are now at my other web site, Lightroom Solutions.
The third of my #2016top3 favourite images, a birch and bracken on Grange Crags, has in fact already been on the blof. 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.
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.
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.
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.
I 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
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.
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.
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.
Sometimes you just don’t mind people wandering into your landscape, do you?
I’m back from another trip to the Lake District. It was quite possibly the wettest two weeks I’ve ever experienced there, yet it had begun with a couple of glorious foggy days like you see in this photo. That morning I went out just as the fog was clearing and had only walked a few metres from the house when a neighbour suddenly appeared and walked into the perfect spot for me.
The rain began the next day, and it continued until even local people were complaining and sheep and cattle were lining up for the ark. There’s only one road through Borrowdale and the lake was pretty high, and in the following days some rivers burst and a few key roads were flooded. It was the start of a difficult time for the region.
For a photographer rain can be such a downer too, but I often think of a friend’s mantra about there being “no such thing as bad weather, just a bad attitude”, and one of my own sayings is that when something gets in your way, it’s probably just inviting you to photograph it. Without being very profound, such thoughts can just nudge the photographer into creative action when you might be tempted to cut a trip short or remain indoors. I have good rain wear and a ThinkTank cover for my camera, so if it wasn’t going to stop raining it would have to be the rain that I would go out to photograph.
And once you are out there, the “bad” weather does have the very great virtue of deterring most walkers and all but the most determined photographers. The landscapes are different, lakeside trees are suddenly in the water, fences cross flooded fields, the waterfalls are nice and full, and you have it all to yourself. When you do encounter another photographer you usually exchange wry smiles, maybe stop for a chat and hear what other locations are like.
But it seems a little different when you run into a photo workshop, don’t you think? You’re outnumbered, and it’s not hard to imagine why the workshop leader, if that’s what they are called, might not appreciate you chatting to his clients. It’s awkward enough when it’s dry, but I had been all alone at an almost-submerged Ashness Jetty when a one-to-one workshop arrived, and it was an encounter that reminded me of how you can feel in London when “professional dog walkers” use a public park to exercise their clients’ pets. Just as they can turn a space that’s supposed to be for everyone into their business place, on this occasion the water level left very little space for tripods, and yet I still felt it was me who was in their way, not them intruding into my scene. A single dog walker by himself is often welcome, of course.
So 2015’s Landscape Photographer of the Year winners have been announced, and the Lake District seems well-represented, I’m glad to say.
I wasn’t very keen on last year’s winner, but I could at least see a certain intriguing quality that made me want to keep looking.
This year’s overall winner does nothing for me though. Maybe it does look better as a print, but it just left me thinking snow is certainly unusual in Dorset and that it must have been chosen by southerners. Sorry, I don’t see much there.
Of the other winning entries, I’d have gone for Lizzie Shepherd’s zigzag walls in the snow (snow seems big this year), Julie Hutson’s clever treatment of London’s Shard, or most probably for Ian Taylor‘s “The Ref’s an Angel” – despite the corny title.
For a few moments I was thinking xxxx!, xxxx!, xxxxxxg kids!
Almost 10 years ago I’d been to a big re-enactment there and I still remember feeling the ground shake as a line of dozens of horses charged up the hill. That was one of the bigger events there – I’m sure they’re planning something similar for next year’s 950th anniversary – but Saturday’s event was on a more modest scale.
The re-enactors depicting the Normans had just arrived at the bottom of the field and were marching up directly towards where I had stood. And these kids decided to stand right in the way, or rather right in my way. For those few seconds I was thinking damn them, or why can’t they turn to face me.
Afterwards, I was just thinking ooh, ooh, ooh those kids.
As usual the Anglo-Saxons lost. But I am very glad to say the crowd did boo the Normans.