Emotion or technical excellence?

Continuing the Blue Hour exploration, which seems to be my theme this week, I dropped the wife at work around 7.30am and then set out to capture my 365 image of the day.  I knew I wanted a shot from the carpark outside her offices comprising the view looking back towards “that” snicket and this time of the morning was ideal.

I only took two images however before the heavens opened and I was left scurrying for the car dragging tripod and camera behind me.  It clearly wasn’t going to stop quickly and as I knew from experience that there was only five or ten minutes of the blue “hour” left I decided to go with what I had. Both looked OK on the LCD screen and both should be sharp as they’d been shot on a tripod at f16 – it was worth taking a chance that I had what I wanted and heading for a warm coffee.

© Dave Whenham

Back home I quickly realised that my favourite of the two is the second as it has a stronger composition however there is one snag, it has three rain drops on the lens which given the lighting conditions this morning have flared and stand out very strongly. Removing them is not going to be an easy task, although I will have a go of course. However, I’m trying to present my 365 series largely as-seen with only basic adjustments. So, should I go with the stronger composition despite the hard-to-eradicate drops or should I opt for  the weaker composition with the technically better presentation?

I chose what I felt was the better composition; emotion to my mind is a far more imporatant element in photography than technical perfection and I felt this version (above) better captured the moment. However, accepting that your mileage may vary I have included the “rejected” composition, the mono version of which is shown below.

© Dave Whenham.

For completeness, here is the cloned version of my chosen image together with the mono conversion.

© Dave Whenham

© Dave Whenham

Downsizing?

I’m still not fit enough to yomp around woodland or moorland but I’m taking more interest in life, am much more active and have even started thinking again; or that half-baked process that passes for thought in my universe.

6 frames stitched in PS.Tripod mounted
A six-frame panorama

Today I’m ruminating on gear. Not surprising as I recently had to close down and empty my darkroom so it could be used as a bedroom for the ever growing tribe of grand children living at Whenham Towers. Room has been found in the spare (or guest as my wife calls it) bedroom but not as much room as I enjoyed in my, now ex, darkroom. So, it appears that I’m in the process of down-sizing as I believe the modern term for having a good clear out is nowadays. I’ve already carted one black bag of rubbish, or at least newly-categorised-as-rubbish, to the local tip but still have too much for the available space. I know it’s procrastinating but I’ve stored two boxes of stuff under the desk rather than sort it out. It won’t fool the Boss forever but until she does spot it I can put off the inevitable for just a bit longer (if I’m being realistic she’s already spotted it but is waiting to see if I sort it of my own volition).

© Dave Whenham
Jusst the camera and a lens – nothing from the many boxes of odds and ends I possess was used in making this simple image.

But why procrastinate? Cerebrally I know that much of it will never be used again, at least not by me, nor will it be of much use to others. I have a huge box of Cokin filters for instance that I once gave away to a fellow photographer. Eighteen months later, convinced of the value of on-camera filtration, he upgraded to Lee filters and returned them! Not only that he’d added to the collection too in those eighteen months so the box floweth over.

The trouble is that in the past I’ve been too quick to declare items no longer required and then subsequently regretted it. The most obvious example was the 1000+ vinyl LPs, some of which I sold and some of which I gave away when I no longer had room for a turntable.  I was lucky that around fifty of my absolute favourite LPs went to a good friend who when he heard I’d bought a new turntable kindly returned them to me. But I still have nightmares about the other 950+ which represented my teens and early twenties more acutely than any diary or even photograph could.

© Dave Whenham
Buckstones Edge – I’m looking forward to yomping around this location again soon.

It’s not just personal possessions I’ve hoarded in the past. When we moved up north I left behind a collection of left over timber that would have filled a skip, indeed probably did fill a skip (I left it for the new owners with a note saying that I hoped it would be of use. The three biscuit tins laden with screws, nails and nuts and bolts made it on to the removal lorry and are still sitting on the shelf where I placed them sixteen-plus years ago upon moving into this house.

But I digress, I’m supposed to be talking about photography gear or at least my aversion to throwing out or passing on anything. I think the biggest problem is that some, a very small some it has to be said, of these accumulated items have proved useful at times. Take the two tripod heads from cheapo tripods. When the legs inevitably collapsed I salvaged the heads, themselves cheapo pieces of kit, and put them away “just in case”. Last week these came in very handy as makeshift flash stands when playing with the SplashArt kit. Small enough to sit in the midst of everything, robust enough to hold the flash unit and not likely to be over taxed in the process.

© Dave Whenham
Two hoarded tripod heads DID come in useful in the making of this image.

I wasn’t sure where this blog post was going when I started, and I’m not sure where it’s got to now I’m almost finished but one thing I do know is that the boxes still need sorting and it’s only a matter of time before senior management get on my case!

The “Blue Hour”

Sitting between the night and the morning is a kind of twilight zone that many photographers call The Blue Hour (there’s also one in the evening but it is this very morning that I’m concerned with).  Although I have not yet found an official definition for the blue hour, the blue color spectrum is I am reliably informed by Master Wiki most prominent when the sun is between 4 and 8° below the horizon. In my experience it isn’t actually an hour, its effects are often only apparent for between 20 and 40 minutes but that’s possibly nit picking really, most photographers will know what I mean by “blue hour”.

© Dave Whenham

I enjoy the blue hour particularly when shooting in an urban environment. In towns and cities, buildings are still illuminated, Windows are lit and streetlights are often still on, making it an ideal time for urban photography. It’s also ideal for landscape photography because of the different shades of the sky and colour saturation but for me the magic lies in the urban environment.  However, I find this brief period before it comes properly light to be both frustrating and productive in equal measure.

This morning’s blue hour started for practical purposes around 7:20am here and by 7:45am was basically all over. When this period coincides with wet pavements and clear skies it can be magical. The key in my view is knowing your patch. It also helps to moderate your expectations.

© Dave Whenham

This morning after dropping the wife at work I knew I had around 15 minutes of usable blue hour available so there was not time for a leisurely stroll looking for compositions. It had been raining off and on all morning so the pavements were wet which was ideal. I decided that a shot of the Dean Clough complex from the bridge outside the leisure centre would make a good shot in these conditions and it also had the benefit of being a hundred yards from where I had dropped the wife off.

On the way in I had driven past the entrance to the Piece Hall and not d the doors were open so having secured the Dean Clough image I jumped in the car and drove across to the Hall. At that time of the morning I was able to park easily outside the entrance and as it was still pre-8am it didn’t cost a penny either. I had two compositions in mind both requiring a large depth of field but fortunately both were to be shot with the camera on the paving so there was no need to grab the tripod.

© Dave Whenham

Two locations, three images and twenty minutes later I was heading to a local cafe for a restorative black coffee… I might have had a butty too!

Splash – it’s an Art

I’ve posted a few splashes recently and just before I put it all away so I could use the table for something else I decided to take a few pictures of the set-up for a future blog post.  It’s not my intention to write a tutorial, I’m still learning and watching/reading tutorials myself, but just to show what I use for those who might be interested.

See review at http://www.gavtrain.com/?p=1993
There’s an excellent review at http://www.gavtrain.com/?p=1993

The basic kit is not exactly cheap but then again given the amount of money photographers spend on owning the latest camera bodies and lenses it is not too extravagant a purchase to give your photography another outlet. I sometimes wonder how many photographic trips I might have embarked upon if I hadn’t bought and sold kit so often in the past.

I guess it should be said also that the kit has minimal uses apart from releasing drops of water so unless you feel you are going to get plenty of use then you may want to consider whether you want to incur the cost. I  had played with more Heath Robinson set ups previously so had a basic interest. I also enjoy playing with flashes and solving the myriad problems, creative and practical, that are involved when working indoors with small flashes.  Over time some of the solutions evolve and I purchase items specifically to address problems that have had somewhat cruder solutions. For example I ordered some white sticky-backed plastic today to line the large tray I use to catch stray water and in which the rest of my set-up sits. The black tray creates a lot of darker shadows in the water so I’ve been using a white towel under the water bath to mitigate against this. Having found a workable solution (white towel) to the problem (dark areas of water) I then came up with a more permanent solution. Problem solving is one of the aspects of this type of photography that keeps me interested.

© Dave Whenham
A white towel provides a solution to dark areas of water

I’ve mentioned in a previous post that plain water is not the easiest liquid to use but it is currently my preferred solution for two reasons; availability and also whilst I’m learning I think it helps to have some consistency. That’s not to say I am not going to try other liquids but for now this is one variable that I can keep consistent whilst I learn. I will certainly be playing with other liquids though, I did have a try with some milk when I first bought the kit but quickly decided to stick with water whilst I learnt the basics. But that is just me, others may find milk for example easier than water.

© Dave Whenham
One of my very first splashes – this one is milk

One thing not provided in the kit but without which this type of photography is extremely problematic is a flash unit or two. To create the burst of light required to freeze the motion of the drops requires that the set up is lit with a flash. Flash units can be bought fairly cheaply these days and of course unlike the SplashArt kit have plenty of uses apart from water art. I initially purchased a cheap, generic flash unit to use alongside the Nikon flash that I already owned. This was quickly complemented by a second cheap unit and in April 2017 when I bought the kit this was my set up. More recently I have taken to using the Nikon macro flash kit as the units are smaller and easier to use in a confined space. The bigger flashes offer more power but I’ve not yet found any downside to using the smaller units; they were not bought for this project however and the cheap, generic flash units did a great job too. It’s not what you’ve got it’s what you do with it could be the watchwords here.

© Dave Whenham
I keep the control unit away from the water bath but still readily to hand

Because the process can be fiddly, especially during the iterative process of getting the timings right for the release of the second drop and then then triggering the camera I like to keep everything to hand and often have a stool to sit on (old age comes with some perks). Care needs to be taken to ensure this stays dry though and it is fortunate that the cables supplied are a good length, arguably much longer than needed but this is a benefit.

The principles are very easy. One button controls the size of the first drop of water, another the delay between first and second drop and a third to control the size of the second drop. A fourth button, set below the others, controls the timings for releasing the shutter, the unit being attached to the camera’s cable release socket. The fifth, ridiculously tiny in my view, button has a dual function as it is used to toggle between one drop or two and is also used to trigger the unit. It is very easy to understand but can at times be very fiddly to get just right. The trick is only changing one variable at a time in my experience.  The process is however not for those with limited patience!

© Dave Whenham
A four flash set up using the three macro lights and my Nikon flash unit.
© Dave Whenham
It can be a fiddly process but seeing the splash on the screen makes it worthwhile

So, there you have it. A quick tour of my set up and a few thoughts on the process. Given time I will probably try to write more of a tutorial but for now this will have to suffice.

Moors misty morning

Alliteration has been a weakness of mine for many years!

As part of my ongoing videography development I decided to try to create a short video that used no drone footage, no time-lapses and no stills apart from a short slideshow at the end. In other words from start to finish just video footage shot specifically for the project. To simplify it slightly I was going to revisit a regular location and spurred by my Sunday sunrise success (more alliteration but see earlier post) I planned to shoot a sunrise for this exercise.

The weather forecast was such that a misty start was a possibility but the forecast was also for reasonably clear skies with just a little cloud cover. Visions of low lying mist with a blue sky above, dotted with fluffy clouds, filled my mind. Knowing the lay of the land and where the sun would rise I was also thinking that if the sun peeked through said clouds I would get some lovely side lighting across the rocky edge at Buckstones.

(C) Dave Whenham
Not the conditions I had previsualised

Would you be surprised to find that it didn’t go to plan? In fact I think the trendy term is (or was?) #fail

My alarm went off at 5.30am and resisting the urge to snooze the alarm I was out of the door, flask of coffee in hand, by 6.00am. After a stop for diesel I was in place ready to shoot before 6.30am. Camera (Fuji X-T20) on tripod – check. Camera in video mode – check. Fluid video head in use – check. Audio recording active on camera – check. Lapel mic in place ready to capture my pearls of wisdom – check.

In short, a text book departure and set up. Sunrise was due at 6.59am and I was ready and waiting by 6.45am.  The Nikon D800E was at my feet and I have never been better prepared for a shoot – ever.  Period.  There was just one problem. I had to guess at the composition because I could only see a few feet in front of me.

Hhhmmm.

I stuck it out until 8.30am at which point I had to get back home to keep an appointment. During the two hours on location I shot video, waffled into the tiny dead cat on my collar and even took a couple of stills. At no point did the mist lift. There were a couple of occasions when there seemed to be a slight gap in the mist as it drifted across in front of me but at no point during the time I was there did it clear even for a short period.

Whether the video will get made is as yet an unknown quantity. I haven’t looked at what I have on the memory cards and nor have I listened back to the audio to see if I have enough to make something worth listening to or looking at. Unfortunately it will need to wait until next week at the earliest as I’m away on a conference until Sunday. If it does get made it will be a major achievement!

But, in closing, it is important to note one key thing – I had a fabulous two hours, enjoyed the solitude, the peace and the joy of trying to create something despite the conditions. There may, or may not, be an end result but I had a great morning.

Chasing the light

OK, not the most original title ever but it has the benefit of accuracy.

© Dave Whenham

As I’ve already mentioned in an earlier post today I “mis-timed” my departure this morning; or to put it another way overslept. I had checked and knew sunrise was 6.58am so, allowing for a twenty minute drive and ten minutes to set two tripods up and get cameras in place I calculated that I’d need to be out of bed at 5.45 to give me time to dress, make a flask of coffee and get the gear into the car. I awoke at 6.28 and although I moved quickly I was already past my ideal set-off time when my feet touched the bedroom floor.

Despite driving within the legal limits, of course, I was still five minutes from my intended destination, and still fifteen minutes behind schedule, when, glancing in my rear view mirror, I saw that the sun was just about to pop its head over the horizon.  Luckily the road up on the moors was quiet at 6.57am so I managed to pull over and grab the camera (Nikon D800E with my trusty Nikkor 24-70) for a couple of shots including the 10-frame panorama I posted when I got home.  I had no time to do anything other than grab the camera and shoot handheld with whatever lens happened to be on it; I would have preferred the 70-200.  Nor was there time to add ND graduated filters so I bracketed and hoped that the dynamic range of the camera and some judicious post-processing would come to my rescue.

© Dave Whenham
Handheld panorama (6 frames)

Still hoping that I’d get something at my chosen location I jumped back in the car. In the end, despite visiting two alternative shooting spots, the conditions just five minutes down the road were nowhere near as photogenic. I debated sitting with the flask and just waiting but realised that there was a totally clear sky above the scene and by the time the sun illuminated my view it would also be very harsh.

I decided to go back and chase the light and the rapidly dispersing mist back down the valley.

© Dave Whenham

I stopped just over the brow of the hill, swapped the 24-70 for the 70-200 and knowing that I had an image in the bag already took the time to get the tripod out.  The light in the upper part of the sky was much brighter than the foreground but with the sun almost bald in the sky creating huge variances within that upper area of the frame no amount of graduated ND filters were going to make much difference. I therefore bracketed by five stops but in the end only used a single frame choosing to crop the sun out on the computer.

pano_DWE2767
A tiny bit of post-production manipulation here. I applied a warm filter to the sky and a cooling filter to the landscape. The end result is closer to what I perceived at the time.
sunrise-moors-_DWE2720
Taken at the same time as the panoramas, this is a single frame.

30minsaftersunrise_DWE2774

I stopped three times driving back managing a few nice images including the tree above which sits just above the M62 motorway. The third stop, at the reservoir, yielded nothing unfortunately. Just as I got the tripod out of the boot, the geese, which had roosted overnight on the water and were my intended subject, suddenly rose and disappeared before I could even extend a single tripod leg.

However, I was not going to complain. I had chased the rapidly dispersing mist down the valley and captured a few nice images so all in all a good start to the day.  It was a shame my intended location wasn’t “doing it” for me this morning but as I’ve said before nothing beats knowing your patch and it was that knowledge that was my friend this morning.