Swansea Bay

We are still travelling but have moved now from Swansea to Porlock. However, I managed an hour on the beach at Swansea Bay before breakfast this morning.

Processed with Snapseed.
Minimalist Bay

Fuji X-T10 with 18-55 “kit” lens tripod mounted

X100T Saves the Day

Since the arrival of the X-Pro1 I’ve rather neglected the X100T using the former for wandering about and the X-T10 for landscapes.  After breakfast on Tuesday morning we drove down to the Mumbles for a stroll and to give the wife a chance to play on the 2p machines at the arcade. I know – rock ‘n’ roll!   Upon leaving the car I grabbed the bag with the X-Pro1, a spare battery and a cleaning cloth. On an impulse I grabbed the X100T which was in the boot of the car and popped that in the bag too.

(c) Dave Whenham
Mumbles panorama

Midway through the afternoon we found ourselves at Mumbles Pier. Whilst the wife gambled her pennies I wandered down onto the beach with the X-Pro1 and my favourite 35mm f1.4 lens. It was not the best choice though as I found myself wanting a wider view. Remembering the X100T with its fixed 23mm lens I swapped cameras – and never swapped back.

As I wandered on the beach looking for compositions a few clouds scudded into view giving some interest to what had been a bland, hazy sky all day up until then.  Whilst switching Drive modes I spotted the Sweep Panorama feature, something I hadn’t used previously. It’s fair to say I gave it plenty of use!  The panorama above is straight from camera .

(c) Dave Whenham
Mumbles

The beauty of the X100T is how small it is. But I’d have to also say that the 23mm lens is extremely versatile for a landscaper like myself.

Two weeks ago I was confident that I’d try to upgrade to the XT2 early next year. Then I bought the X-Pro1 and “knew” that I’d prefer the X-Pro2 to the XT2. Now I’m confused – perhaps I will look at the X100F?  Who know!!

 

5.30am

I know – ridiculous right? Walking down a hotel corridor in my bare feet at 5.30 in the morning, boots and socks in one hand and camera bag and tripod in the other. Welcome to the balancing act that is a photographer on a family holiday!

(c) Dave Whenham
Swansea Bay

I was up earlier than yesterday because I planned to photograph further down the Bay and this would involve a short drive. As I sat on the wall outside the hotel in the dark at 5.35am  putting on socks and walking shoes I did wonder about my sanity. However, fast forward to 8.05am when I tiptoed back into the hotel room to find my wife still sleeping I remembered how sane the decision was but I digress. There was a bank of low-lying cloud along the horizon and it wasn’t looking good for a colourful sunrise but I’ve been doing this long enough to know to go with the flow. However, twenty minutes later stood on the promenade with the wind parting what little hair I have I accepted this wasn’t going to be a repeat of the previous day.

Being able to improvise is a key skill for a landscape photographer and I returned to base and took a walk along the opposite side of the tidal lagoon to see what opportunities that location would offer if the light was better tomorrow. I ended up walking a couple of miles and found myself amongst the sand dunes that border the beach.

(c) Dave Whenham
Waterfront and Dunes

By not giving up I managed to capture two or three decent “snaps” this morning whilst my other half slept. We now have the day ahead of us with a completely domestic agenda but I can rest easy knowing I’ve had my fix of “serious” photography for the day so anything else will clearly be a bonus.

Cold hands and warm colours

Six-fifteen am is not an unfamiliar time for me, although I’m usually sat on the settee with a cup of tea and the iPad and not tiptoeing down a hotel corridor with tripod in one hand and camera bag in the other.  But that is exactly where I was this morning.

(c) Dave Whenham
The evening view from the hotel room

We are staying in Swansea for a few days and our hotel is on the waterfront. I had already taken a couple of pleasing images the night before but retail therapy was planned for the new day and therefore serious photography would be confined to before breakfast and/or after dinner. It was chilly to say the  least at that time of the morning but as I stepped out into the morning darkness I noticed the sky to my left just starting to infuse with some lovely warm colours. Was my early start to be rewarded? It certainly looked as if it might.

We are away for a couple of weeks, visiting family mainly, and as part of my ongoing exploration of the Fuji system I have travelled very light. The Fuji X-T10 is joined on this trip by the newly acquired Fuji X-Pro1, the 35mm f1.4 and the manual Samyang 12mm lens. I have packed the two “kit lenses” along with the 8mm Samyang fisheye but these stayed in the hotel room this morning.

(c) Dave Whenham
I wasn’t tempted to take a dip!

This is the first time I’ve used the MeFOTO RoadTrip tripod when the sun hasn’t been shining and I have to say that whilst it’s an excellent piece of kit my ungloved fingers struggled slightly with the twist locks in the morning cold. Not a major issue but I will need to ensure I have gloves with me I think when I use it tomorrow morning. The tripod is smaller than my usual Manfrotto but considerably lighter. Fully extended it provides a very comfortable working height and in particular it was high enough to enable the camera to clear the railing around the tidal lagoon.

(c) Dave Whenha
Sunrise and silhouettes

The images here are all JPEGs with final tweaks done on an iPad using the Snapseed app. Both cameras handled well and I’m looking forward to getting the RAW files home in a couple of weeks.

(c) Dave Whenham
A promising start

The colours of the sunrise were largely confined to a strip along the horizon but were very intense, enhanced by the Velvia setting on the X-T10 which I had forgotten to reset to Classic Chrome when I put the camera away the previous day. The onboard RAW processing of the X-T10 however means that I can produce alternative JPEGs on the fly which is a very useful feature.

(c) Dave Whenham
I can never resist a monochrome

Post-sunrise however the light show was curtailed, the blank, featureless sky lacked the drama pre-sunrise and I therefore explored the area further. Walking back to the hotel I remembered the Little Stopper in its tin nestled in the bottom of the bag. I can never resist black and white for long and after thirty minutes of working with the  pre-sunrise colour I slipped easily into mono-mode. The light turned out to be very nice for black and white work and I returned to the hotel with very cold hands but a huge smile on my face.

(c) Dave Whenham
Swansea Marina

So, I am very happy with the image quality from this mornings exercise. The JPEGs looked fabulous and I have the pleasure of playing with the RAW files to come.  I mainly used the X-T10 and on the whole it handled very well. Focusing with a manual lens in low light was a challenge but the focus  definitely helped. I set the JPEG mode to B&W(yellow) which seems to provide better clarity and of course by shooting RAW+JPEG means I still have the colour information, which was vital for such a fiery sunrise.

All in all a positive experience, the first time I’ve shot with the Fuji’s in the dark and cold of an Autumn morning. I’m not quite ready to give up the big Nikons but I used my full-sized graduated filters with the Little Stopper very happily and as with the big DSLRs practice and familiarity will make things easier.

Time for Reflection – The PPC

© Dave Whenham
London Fashion Week

I’m not big on reflective posts these days. When I was studying it was a weekly chore to record my thoughts and reflections of the past week in a learning log so I kind of got bored by them.

However, whilst working on some planning for a special issue of Photonews today (I produce and edit the journal of the Postal Photographic Club) I realised that I have had a very successful year in terms of the club’s competitions.

The club is comprised of various different Circles each of which runs a monthly competition and most of which culminate in a “photographer of the year” within the Circle. We also have two club-wide competitions each year, The Founders Cup and the Travelling Exhibition both of which are judged by external judges.

I have successfully defended the Pop Wetherall Trophy for the best photographer in Circle One during the 2015/2016 season having won it for the first time in the 2014/2015 season. I have been a member of the Circle since the 2011/2012 season and come close before but this was the first time I had managed top spot. To win it last year was a massive thrill but retaining it was even more special.

In addition I had good success earlier in the year in the Founders Cup, the first of our club-wide competitions winning The Founders’ Cup for the best print over all as well as the Floyd Landscape Trophy for the best landscape print.

Then, most recently, an image taken near to my home won the Half Plate Challenge Cup for the Best Print in the Travelling Exhibition, the Maurice MacDowell Cup for the Best Colour Print as well as the Andrew Emond Trophy for the Best Landscape Print. I also took the Salver for the Best Monochrome in the projected digital image section of the TE capping off a very successful year.

An added bonus has been my first acceptances into a Royal Photographic Society exhibition. One was the same image that did so well in the PPC’s Travelling Exhibition but the other was “London Fashion Week” (see top of page) which was a real thrill as it is such a departure from my normal style.

Not everyone is as happy as I am. Seven pieces of silverware is quite a lot of polishing and cleaning for my long-suffering wife of 35 years.

In praise of action cams

As some of you might know I recently acquired a GoPro Session video camera with the vague idea of complementing my blog posts periodically with some behind the scenes video or time-lapse footage as I go about capturing images on my camera.

Well, I now have three of them. Two “Sessions” and a GoPro Hero 3+.  But lets not go there except to say that the third camera was a secondhand bargain from a local thrift shop so comes with virtuous feelings.

I took Zac to the park yesterday and wisely or otherwise allowed him to ride his scooter there. I fully expected to spend most of the time carrying it but in the end he exceeded expectations and the only time I was lumbered with it was when he was on the climbing frames and swings.  Before we left the house however I attached one of the  GoPro Sessions to the front of said scooter and popped the other into my pocket along with a mini tripod.

The footage here is unedited, all I have done is trim the two clips to length. I have left the film as it came out of the camera and have not tweaked the audio at all. It isn’t bad really especially when you consider the relative cost of a Hero Session compared to a DSLR or a dedicated video camera.

In the second clip I am running to catch Zac with the GoPro Session on a small tripod held in my hand at waist level with my arm straight. Remember there are no viewfinders on these little action cameras so it is also necessary to pay close attention to how you are holding the camera and where it is pointing.

But it isn’t the quality that prompted this post. It’s the fact that their size and versatility was what prompted me to pick them up. I wasn’t going to lug a big DSLR with me, far too heavy on a sunny day and indeed even the Fuji seemed a bit much to carry, but a small cube around 1.5 inches on all three sides and around 3 ounces in weight was less cumbersome than my house keys.

I have around thirty minutes footage from the two cameras on my computer at the moment. When we got to the park I took the second Session off the scooter and handheld that too. When I get a chance next week I shall edit and cut it into short sequences and edit them together to create a two minute movie to show the family and share our afternoon out with them. Zac’s parents need to work but doing this gives them a small insight to what their son has been up to in their absence – they feel less excluded. Theres a fifty-one second  clip of Zac on the swings being pushed by myself. His Dad has just sat and watched the raw footage with a big grin on his face. That is priceless and makes the effort, however big or small, of capturing these moments really well worth it.

So let’s here it for the tiny GoPro – truly a hero.  As for Zac – he’s priceless.

Time Passages

Sometimes you have to accept that just because you love an image it doesn’t follow that everyone else will do so too.

I stood at the roadside before the light was up and froze one November morning in 2015 in order to take (make?) this photograph. You could say I invested in its conception.  Perhaps that’s why I like it so much? It was probably the only image from that morning that I kept.

When I saw it emerge from the RAW file on my large computer monitor I was instantly drawn to the way the streaks of the clouds and the shapes in the water suggest movement, the passage of time. Part of my life wandered by whilst stood on the roadside and this image has captured that fleeting moment. Perhaps that’s why I like it so much?

As I looked at it, the words of a favourite song came unbidden into my head. Time Passages. This image links to not just my visual senses then but my aural too.  Perhaps that’s why I like it so much?

I guess the viewer has none of these emotional cues.   I guess that I will just have to accept that just because I love this image it doesn’t follow that everyone else will do so too. Perhaps that’s why I like it so much?

© Dave Whenham

“Well I’m not the kind to live in the past
The years run too short and the days too fast
The things you lean on are the things that don’t last
Well it’s just now and then my line gets cast into these
Time passages”

Time Passages by Al Stewart

Out and About

I went back to one of my regular haunts on the River Calder this afternoon. I’d planned to shoot some video on the canal for the “My Patch” project but harsh light scuppered those plans. Fortunately I knew the little beach alongside the river would be in shade at this time of day.

It was an opportunity to experiment. I used the Nikon D750 to reshoot a couple of sequences for My Patch. I am thinking of re-editing the River Calder section in the light of ongoing learning. I’ve already mentioned that I will probably reshoot all of the voice over files too for the same reason.

© Dave Whenham

My main objective was to try out a few ideas which involved dunking the GoPro Session and then the Nikon AW110 (above) in the river. I should have taken a towel and some water to rinse my hands off after dipping them in the river – noted for next time.

© Dave Whenham

I had also packed my Fuji X-T10 and Samyang 12mm lens so took the opportunity to try out the video function on the camera avoiding the schoolboy error from earlier in the day when I’d shot three video segments with the camera in black & white mode!  I also managed to capture a couple of long-exposure compositions that I’ve had in mind for a while now (see above).

I ended my visit sat on some tree roots recording a “reflective” piece on the Fuji (forgetting I’d put the camera back in black & white mode for the long exposures) and also pacing along the rivers edge speaking into a Lavalier microphone attached to the Zoom H2n which was in my pocket all afternoon.

I also hooked the Rode mic up to the newly-acquired Tascam recorder to capture some ambient audio to play under the video sequence. I’m looking forward to checking the audio quality at some point this week.

All in all I covered a lot of ground this afternoon and hopefully when I’ve had time to reflect properly I will also have learnt a lot!

DSLR video kit overview

Whilst I try to reference the kit I have used where relevant I don’t think I’ve ever devoted a blog post simply to describing the kit I used for a specific project. However, the world of DSLR video is so new to me I am finding it useful to keep notes of the whole process to look back upon later.

Disclaimer: I am not a videographer but a (very much) first-time DSLR video shooter recording my experiences from this, my first project, in my blog.

For the video segments I have shot so far (introductory scene and scene 2) I’ve used the Nikon D800E with a 24-70 f2.8 lens mounted on an old Manfrotto 055XPROB tripod with a Manfrotto 701HDV Professional Mini Fluid Video Head which had been languishing upstairs for over four years according to my Amazon account. I’ve no idea why I bought it but am pleased to have it now.  The clip below is an initial idea for the opening sequence – I probably won’t use it for this project although it may well be used in a future video.

I also own a Nikon D750 and subsequent research suggests this is actually better for video than the D800E so for the next scenes I shoot (slated for 16th August) I am going to give the D750 a try.  The 055XPROB is an old favourite and whilst heavy (remember this whole project is being shot on foot) it gives me a good working height at full extension and also allows for me to use it reasonably close to ground level. The 701HDV head was a revelation. I’ve tried panning and tilting in the past with standard pan and tilt heads but the difference in ease of use and the smoothness of the pan from the dedicated video head is immense.  I’ve read reviews that describe this, now discontinued I believe, head as “buttery smooth” and totally understand what they mean.

I shot some test footage in the river with a handheld GoPro session video camera. The footage doesn’t look out of place when used as a short insert and I have some ideas to use this for future scenes. I am also going to dig out and charge up the Nikon Coolpix AW110 that I bought five years ago for a seaside holiday with the grandchildren to enable me to capture some stills from a different perspective.

For location and ambient sound I have used a RØDE VideoMic stereo on-camera microphone fitted to the camera hotshot and plugged into the camera.  This has proved adequate for the footage I’ve shot so far however I am also conscious that the pre-amps in DSLRs are not the best and so I’ve done a lot of research; copious reading and countless YouTube videos. After a lot of internal debate and deliberation I have ordered a TASCAM DR60D-MKII portable recorder which will considerably improve the audio quality and give me a good platform for future projects. The battery life is inferior to the Zoom series I am reading  but the Tascam is built with DSLR shooters in mind and looks far more intuitive to use for me than the Zoom equivalent I also considered.

For the voiceover I am currently using the Zoom H2n portable recorder which I’ve owned for some time now. I have previously used it to capture ambient sound for slideshows and narration for the video diaries I produced when studying.  It has built in microphones but for the voiceover for this project I’ve been using an old microphone that I probably bought in Tandy around fourteen years ago for a school project of one of my daughters.  It works but upon reflection I can’t say I’m totally happy with the quality; usable but could be a lot better I think*. I’m currently looking at the Samson Q2U USB/XLR microphone which has some great reviews and is reasonably priced too.  I will probably order that today and I strongly suspect that I will re-record all of the voice-overs before the end of the project – more on that in a future post I’m sure.

The H2n fits easily in the hand and is readily pocketable so can also be used to capture ambient sound for which I usually mount it on a mini tripod. I used this approach to record the audio of my footsteps on the doorstep and the door closing in the introductory scene for example. Given its portability it would make an ideal travel recorder for the traveller who wants to cut down on the size and weight of their kit.

Summary of kit used to date:

  • Nikon D800E/Nikon D750 (video and stills)
  • Nikkor 24-70 f2.8 lens
  • Fuji X-T10 (stills)
  • Fujinon 35mm f1.4 lens
  • Canon EOS M3 (stills) [I no longer have this camera]
  • GoPro Session
  • Manfrotto 055XPROB tripod
  • Manfrotto 701HDV fluid head
  • Manfrotto mini tripod
  • Rode VideoMic
  • Zoom H2n

I read somewhere that your first video will be shocking so just get it done and move on. I thought it rather negative when I first read it but given everything I’ve learnt already I can see more than a couple of grains of truth in this sentiment.

* No names, no pack drill but I saw one of these for sale on eBay recently and the seller had asked for “£5 or if you live close enough to me a pint of beer …”