Autumn Acer Abstracts

Recently I went to the fabulous Autumn Garden at Queenswood Country Park near Hereford.  One feature of that part of the wood is the Japanese Maples.  They were in full colour and looked fantastic.  It was a sunshine and showers day, so there were lots of water droplets around. I had my Olympus macro lens on, so set my camera to manual focus and defocussed the image.  I concentrated on a small part of a maple that had dissected leaves.  The shapes and colours  of the leaves, and the water droplet highlights, made for a very pleasing abstract composition. I had my trusty Huawei mobile with me and couldn’t resist using “Silky Water” mode and moving the camera during the exposure. Using this technique and standing a few yards away from the tree gave an image full of colour and movement.  It’s not obvious what the subject is, but it doesn’t matter. Getting closer to the tree, and holding the camera still for part of the exposure gave more recognisable shapes to the leaves.  To me it looks like dancing flames. I’m planning to run a one-day woodland photography workshop there.  It will cover such things as composition, movement and macro.  If you are interested drop me an email to info @ (take out the spaces) and I’ll let you know when I have a date sorted.

Landscapes are better in bad weather

Living, as I now do, in Worcester, the Malverns Hills are now a local place to visit.  Although they are called hills, some of the peaks are high enough to be classified as mountains.  Once such is Herefordshire Beacon at 1109 feet above sea level.  It’s the site of British Camp, a huge Iron Age earthwork complex.  The earthworks give a curious silhouette to the hill, and it looks very man-made. The views from the Malvern Hills are wonderful.  Elizabethan diarist John Evelyn called it “one of the godliest vistas in England”.  There are three cathedrals visible on a good day, but it doesn’t always have be a good day. On a recent trip there were showers amongst the sunshine and clouds.  By a stroke of luck they all missed me, but they made for fabulous skies and lighting effects.  This shower is about to land on British Camp.  I underexposed a couple of stops to make the sky darker, and to get solid blacks on the hill. When the shower had cleared away the people on top of the hill reappeared from wherever they had been sheltering, and their silhouettes added an extra dimension to the dark hill and variegated sky.  Once again I underexposed to give more drama in the sky. Turning to look the other way, there was another shower raining happily in the Pershore area.  The line of the clouds is like an arrow, and the cloud shadow in the foreground helps take the eye to the pouring rain. There’s a sort of reflected symmetry in the shapes at top right and bottom left.  I converted the image to black and white to take away the blue sky. I’m glad the weather was so variable, and I look forward to many more trips up there.

Up close and personal (Warning – Spiders!)

A while back we had the builders in, so I needed to be around the house all day to answer questions and advise.  This meant my photographic radius was somewhat reduced.  It was like lockdown but much more expensive and noisier! I could still have a wander round the house and garden with my macro lens.  It’s surprising what turns up if you look closely enough. This charming creature is a Box Tree Moth caterpillar.  It looks rather like a Large White butterfly caterpillar, but instead of ravaging brassicas it ravages box hedges; it’s an invasive pest.  This one was, for some reason, climbing up one of our lounge windows.  It didn’t like me getting very close to it, so started waving its head around.  That allowed me to get a shallow depth of field portrait of the bit that does all the damage. Because our garage has been demolished all of my tools and suchlike are currently stored in the cellar, and our cellar has cellar spiders.  I was shocked!  I lit the beast with a handheld LED torch, and there are some nice bokeh circles in the background where the torchlight was bouncing off some slug trails on the wall.  That’s cellars for you. On the outside wall, right by the back door handle, there was another spider.  The one was a steodata nobilis; the Noble False Widow.  This somewhat unusual viewpoint is the web-making end of the spider rather than the biting end.  These spiders can give you a bit of a nip if you aren’t careful.  The wall was white, which makes for a nice simple background. The builders have gone now, but it’s always worth taking a closer look at where you live.

Just look around you.

As we move into the darker and colder days of winter it’s easy to fall into bad habits and stop looking for images, or say, “It’s all a bit grey, so I’ll leave my camera at home”!  Remember though, even if you don’t go out much, there are still loads of photographic subjects, some even right at your feet. One birthday gift I had was a fabulous cheese selection with vintage port and an olive wood cheese board.  The wood looks to have been “spalted”.  That’s where it’s been attacked by fungi and developed fascinating patterns in the grain.  I looked closely at the wood and found areas that resembled desert landscapes.  This one even has a distant mountain. One other thing that turned up for my birthday was a helium balloon with greetings, circles and stars on it.  The balloon was made from holographic material and I have photographed this sort of thing before.  I popped my clip-on macro lens on to my phone and chose a section that had excellent reflections and refractions from the lens’ built-in ring light.  Someone said it looked like an extra-terrestrial ovum! I said about images being at your feet.  I was hoovering on a rare sunny day recently and noticed that the cable was producing interesting shadows on the carpet.  I grabbed my phone and shot directly downwards.  It’s a bit like a big infinity symbol.  I converted it to contrasty B&W in Photoshop. Dull winter days?  Just stay at home and look around you.

It’s getting closer…

Blimey, it’s getting awfully close to Christmas again! One thing I did a couple of Christmases ago was to go to the Worcester Cathedral Christmas Tree Festival.  There were loads of decorated trees in the Cathedral cloister.  Some were from schools, some from charities and some from commercial organisations.  Most were fab! Here I’ve used my mobile’s Silky Water mode, (yes, again!), and walked as fast as I could down the cloister.  I had to wait till there weren’t too many people.  I like the combination of warm orangey lights and cooler blue lights. This is rather closer to home;  well, it’s actually at home.  We had some Xmas lights left over, so we put them in the mini-stairwell going down to our kitchen.  I went up the other stairs and wobbled the phone around in, you guessed it, Silky Water mode.  I simplified the image by converting it to black & white in Snapseed. Having reached the kitchen it was time to pop my clip-on macro lens to the front of my mobile.  Here are some condensation droplets on the underside of the plastic film on the top of a ready-meal.  It just shows that there are interesting abstract images in the most mundane of things. I’m thinking of running some photo walks in Worcester.  if you are interested pop me an email.

5000 reasons to take pictures

Last year I went to the athletics at the excellently-run Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.  They had some curious rules about the size of lenses that spectators could take in.  No lenses longer than 12 inches were allowed.  I’m guessing they were concerned about people using long telephoto lenses and taking close up images to sell to agencies.  I use MFT cameras, so get longer telephoto “reach” with my smaller lenses.  I contemplated taking my Olympus 40-150 f2.8 Pro lens with its 1.4x teleconverter, which is less than 12 inches long overall, but was a bit concerned someone would apply the spirit of the rule rather than the wording, so I left it at home.  Instead I took my small Lumix 40-150mm lens, and it was fine despite having a smaller maximum aperture. The men’s 5000 metres race was a great one for using different techniques.  This classic head-on shot shows how close a race it was, even with the “telephoto compression” that’s happening. I pre-focused on the blue thing just inside the track edge and pressed the shutter just as the runners reached it.  I really like the TV cameraman wondering if he should be pointing his camera towards the race. I was at the final bend, and had a good clear blue background when I framed for the edge of the track.  I wanted to get the pattern of the runners’ legs against the blue and the lines as they went past.  There’s a good balance of “up” legs and “down” legs.  The great advantage of a longer race like the 5000 metres is that you have quite a few laps in which to have another go. One of the things I cover in my “Movement in Photography” talk is using camera movement in combination with subject movement.  The camera movement here is panning from left to right as the runners go past.  Using a 1/20th sec shutter speed meant that the movement of the runners, especially their legs, is shown.  There’s a real feel of a race going on.  Panning blurs the background so that distractions, such as advertising text, are minimised. One race, one simple lens and three different images.

Macro Mayhem

A generous friend gave me a bellows attachment.  Bellows allow you to get the lens away from the camera body, and this gives you more magnification.  It was made for an M42 screw-thread mount camera system (think 1950/60’s Pentax or Praktica), so making it work with my Olympus MFT system needed an adapter. Having done a few trial images I decided to “go big or go home” and stuck on some extension tubes (two lots of two) as well.  Oh, and I also fitted my Olympus 1.4x teleconverter.  The converter is not designed to do this, but it fits if you are careful.  It ended up being quite a long system! From camera to lens it goes: Oly 1.4x teleconverter, Fotga MFT extension tubes (x2), MFT to M42 adapter, Vivitar bellows unit, M42 extension tubes (x2), 50mm f1.8 Pentacon lens.   I bought the lens from ebay but on arrival it didn’t work properly.  The seller refunded me and said I could keep the lens.  Having watched some videos, I managed to disassemble the lens, unstick the stuck aperture blades, and reassemble it.  It’s now working OK. The light source is a 64 LED panel and my first subject was a £20 note. With all this extension and the converter, I reckon I’m getting about 5x life-size on the sensor.  You can see just how much detail there is on the notes, which make it harder to forge.  The Pentacon lens is never going to be a stellar performer, but it’s OK. Because this arrangement ends up very close to the subject it’s easier to shoot things that are self-illuminated or translucent.  This image is of a section of my HD monitor screen that was showing pure white.  Red plus Blue plus Green in equal amounts gives white, but get close and it stops being white. I’ve subsequently got a reversing ring, so I will be able to reverse the lens and get even more magnification.  Keep your eyes out for further posts on this.

Pylon the pressure

On a walk with a friend on a lovely sunny day we came across a large electricity pylon.  The appearance of pylons divides people, but whether you like them or not it’s worth looking up and seeing if there are any images to be found. The sun was shining through the glass insulators on the pylon.   I used a couple of stops of negative Exposure Compensation to try and keep the highlight detail in the insulators, and this had the bonus effect of darkening the very blue sky.  It was worth waiting till a small cloud had moved away so it was a plain blue background. Sidebar: there is a huge amount of interest in glass insulators and folks all over the world collect them.  Who knew? Looking up pylons from directly underneath is worthwhile to get pattern images.  It’s fascinating to see the difference the lighting makes.  Here the direct sun means the lighting on the four main supports ranges from flat on, side-lighting and full back lighting.  The square crop and black & white conversion simplifies the image. As well as going for the bigger picture the details of these structures can also be interesting.  It’s clear that not too much care went into getting a super smooth paint finish on the pylon.  Just one painted cross-support diagonally placed against that sky gives a simple texture image. Pylons aren’t as ugly or as much blots on the landscape as some might say.  Go and find one, they are pretty easy to spot!

Same subject, different views.

On a trip to Pembrokeshire one landscape feature really stood out.  It was the Valero oil refinery at Pembroke. It was tempting, in a landscape that has fabulous coastal scenery, to ignore it as a photographic subject, but it’s such a prominent feature it’s worth a closer look. Looking at it from the Angle peninsular the refinery stood out against a cloudy sky.  It had nice directional lighting from the right hand top side. I isolated it using a 150mm telephoto lens, which has added some perpective compression.  A bit of HDR treatment and a B&W conversion gave a moody look. From the summit of the highest point in the Preseli Hills, Foel Cwmcerwyn, the refinery was silhouetted against a backlit sea, and there were good highlights coming from structures in the refinery complex.  Once again I used my 150mm lens, but that was to try and make the refinery as big as possible; it was 20 miles away after all.  I’ve darkened the sky down to make it moodier.  Perhaps it shows “the sunset of big oil”? On the road from Pembroke to Angle there is an incongruously sited Telephone Exchange.  It’s sat in the corner of a field all by itself, but does have a fine view of the refinery.  Here I’ve used a wide angle lens to make the refinery look a bit smaller relative to the small brick building. I liked how the fence posts leading to the Telephone Exchange mimic the chimneys and stacks of the refinery. Not so much a blot on the landscape, more a photographic highlight of my trip.

There’s a storm a brewin’…

We recently had a one week holiday down in lovely Cornwall.  As our plan was to do as much coastal walking as possible, it was somewhat weather dependent.  Luckily, all except one day was pretty good, and a few days were marvellous.  The bad day was the day of Storm Agnes.  For a few hours in the afternoon all manner of wild wind and rain happened.  Going across the River Fal on the King Harry ferry was entertaining. While the storm was developing the sky began to look very ominous.  It was clear that there was a lot of air movement.  It was fascinating to watch.  I took a shot with my mobile and then applied a bit of HDR to make it look even more ominous.  This random natural pattern will never happen again. Other random natural patterns that will never happen again can be found on sandy beaches when the tide has gone out.  Water flowing down the beach makes miniature sandy rivers, that look just like aerial photos of their larger counterparts.  If you live near a beach you could go back every day for a year and photograph exactly the same spot.  Every image would be different. Patterns form on a slower scale as well, in this case geological.  These rocks on the beach are a fabulous mixture of different minerals all running into each other, with cracks and layers all over.  Obviously, over the years the pattern will change, albeit slowly.   It’s hard to choose which bits to photograph as it’s all so  interesting. It was an excellent break, and I hope to go back to the coast soon as there’s so much to see.