Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Quick update

I'm in the US at the moment, staying in Manhattan. As you'll have seen in the news we've had hurricane Sandy upon us. This update is just to say I'm fine, and very lucky to be staying in a hotel in a relatively unaffected part of town. One picture for now - I'll post a longer set of notes and pictures when I get home.

The picture shows water overflowing the banks of the East River. One carriageway of FDR Drive is submerged, as is E62nd St (bottom of picture). The hotel I'm staying in was briefly an island. However,on the scale of the disaster that has overtaken the region, this is as nothing.

More to come in a couple of days.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Covering all the angles at Brands Hatch BSB

Anthony and I teamed up with Ian and Deb Macey for the final Saturday of the British Superbikes Championship at Brands Hatch - our appetite having been whetted by our visit in July.

To say that Deb is a keen Josh Brookes fan would be an understatement, so part of my plan for the day included taking some shots of him at different parts of the circuit.

Josh Brookes - photographed in the pits at Brands in March 2012
As I'm fairly new to this style of photography I was keen to improve my panning technique as well as exploring different angles of attack; some of which worked and some didn't.

Limbering up

We started off at the outside of Surtees - the first part of the GP circuit the riders hit on their way round - for some early panning of the 125s.

235mm; 1/200th at f/5.6 ISO 800
My success rate at 1/200th was fairly good and I did get a few sharp ones at slower shutter speeds.

220mm; 1/160th at f/5.6 ISO 200
Getting the right exposure was quite tricky here as the bikes were moving from a well-lit zone into one that was in shadow.

135mm; 1/80th at f/4 ISO 200
I got a bit brave and went down to 1/80th, in part due to the low light levels available. The above shot was the best that I got so I vowed to stay at 1/160th or higher for the remainder of the day.

A word on ISO

In low light conditions it's easy to run our of apertures at the wide end and the only remedy is to bump up the ISO. Anthony has in the last year purchased a Nikon D700 to complement his D300, the former of which has much improved high ISO performance. The improvements he sees are similar to those I got when I upgraded from a Canon 50D to the 1D MkIV. [In fact, I found the 50D just far too noisy overall and sold mine on eBay. I think Canon has learned the lesson now] 
Having the confidence to shoot at higher ISO also affords one the luxury of setting the ISO to 'Auto', which is perfect when shooting in Shutter Priority in low light. Anthony has used this method before with great success so I followed suit and found that it worked really well. After all, given the choice of a slightly noisy image or a poorly exposed one I know which one I'd pick!

Up to Stirlings

Stirlings is the sweeping left-hander leading into the long straight than enters Clearways. There were two main options here: front-on shots while the riders are cranked over in the bend or panning as they accelerated down the straight.

Josh Brookes hard on the power; 500mm; 1/1000th at f/4 ISO 800

Many of the riders would have the front wheel off the ground as they put the power on. Note the deformation in the rear tyre on the image too.

140mm; 1/200th at f/3.2 ISO 250
It's not everyone's cup of tea but I tried a few shots from the entrance to the bend. I like the lead-in of the rumble strip making a different pictorial statement. This one was taken at ISO 1000 and the image quality is on a par with ones shot at lower sensitivities.

500mm; 1/2500 at f/4.5 ISO 1000


My previous photography at Druids has always been from the inside of the bend but, after a morning of panning, it was time for something different. Anthony had the idea of shooting through the fence down towards Hailwood's Hill, trying to isolate the bikes against the out of focus background.

The secret is to get as close to the fence as you can with the longest lens that you have, set at its widest aperture. My years of wildlife photography have taught me to move around to ensure the cleanest of backgrounds; my trademark according to Anthony.

500mm; 1/4000th at f/4 ISO 250

Dingle Dell

Early in the afternoon we bumped into Sean Harding, a fellow member at Ashford Photographic Society. Sean joined us for the afternoon and was good company as we fought off the cold that accompanied the sun's disappearance behind the trees.

For much of the early afternoon, photographing at Dingle Dell meant shooting into the sun. This gives a very different effect, with the shadow of the bike cast on the track and a few star bursts to boot.

Back-lit. 150mm; 1/250th at f/8 ISO 100

Reflecting on the race day

It was not the perfect day for Deb as Josh failed to make any inroads into Shane Byrne's lead. And it was more of the same on Sunday when Shane was duly crowned a worthy champion.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

New discoveries at Tenterden Folk Festival

Now in its 20th year, Tenterden Folk Festival was the destination for me and Philip last weekend. We both really enjoy live music and were particularly impressed by three performers: Green Diesel, CoCo & the Butterfields and Luke Jackson.

Green Diesel

One of the groups performing was Green Diesel, whom Philip had seen recently and came highly recommended. I arrived a bit late and missed their set at The Woolpack, where I caught up with Philip as they completed their encore. I had to wait for a few hours to hear them play in the marquee but it was certainly worth the wait.

Dancing to Green Diesel at The Woolpack - Photo by Philip
Although my DSLR has video capability I hardly use it but I could not resist on this occasion as a blog post about music, without music, would be a rather hollow piece.

Here's the band playing a Swedish instrumental.


CoCo and the Butterfields

I did not take any video footage of the band, which was a shame as they have a very original sound, blending folk with hip-hop in some of their songs. This might sound an odd combination but it certainly worked for me.

Panel of CoCo and the Butterfields - Picture by Martin

If you get the chance to see this band I would take it. They are playing the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury on May 5th 2013 -  see you there!

Luke Jackson

Luke Jackson on stage - Picture by Martin

Imagine the scene: CoCo and the Butterfields have just wowed the audience and you, a 19-year old solo singer-songwriter, have to take to the stage. As he adjusted his guitar and approached the microphone one could sense that he was completely in his element. And when Luke started to play one was left in no doubt that here was a precocious talent with a very big future ahead of him. I look forward to seeing him perform again soon.

Here is Luke playing 'We are not all the same'.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Panning for abstracts

Dawn over the English Channel, in abstract

One of the things that I enjoy is to try to simplify the subject to the point where its essence can be abstracted. It's possible to create an impression of the subject that almost discards the original and yet leaves the intrinsic rhythms intact.

One approach is to pan the camera with a slow shutter speed across a static subject. This removes details, and yet, done correctly, leaves behind the rhythmic elements that can define the subject's intrinsic nature.

Many years ago, in film days, I used occasionally to try panning the camera on static subjects to get this impressionistic view. It never really worked for me. I now realise that the constraints that we all felt with the expense of film (especially colour slides) meant that I never worked at it hard enough.

Yet another of the benefits of digital is the ability to take a lot of pictures and really work at a subject at essentially no cost. Reviewing and refining the method of panning while working on a picture helps enormously, and this can really only be done with digital.

Over the past few years, I have occasionally tried this again; here are a couple from this year that I quite like. Both of these required a reasonable amount of work to generate a selection of images that represented what I was after, and from which I was able to choose one that I like best of all.

Waves approaching a shore have a natural rhythm and periodicity that can be brought out by removing all the general splashing of the sea by panning camera horizontally. Trees whose energy is directed upwards can be an abstracted from the forest using a vertical pan.

It should be possible to do something like this in Photoshop (by applying a motion blur for instance), but I've never felt that approach is terribly satisfactory. By working on the subject with the camera and trying variations of technique, speed, direction is possible to obtain very pleasing abstraction of subjects without any postprocessing.

The way I go about this is to choose a shutter speed that is sufficiently long to allow blurring while I pan the camera fairly rapidly across the subject, keeping the movement as smooth as possible. The nature of the subject will dictate the shutter speed but typically between 1/4 and 1/30 second, using a relatively normal focal length (any focal length suitable to the subject, but usually with a standard zoom). Normally this can be done with setting the camera to its lowest ISO with shutter speed priority. On very bright days it may be necessary to add a neutral density filter, especially if you want to retain some control of depth of field.

Typically I pan the camera over the subject and just take one picture that includes the area of interest. I'll repeat the panning several times, because each attempt yields a different result. Then I review the pictures on the back of the camera and make adjustments to shutter speed, exposure compensation etc. I might end up with 50 tries for a single image.

The one at the top of page comes from Dungeness a few days ago. Phil, Martin and I arrived on the beach before dawn, and this was a picture I had previsualised. The picture was taken almost immediately before sunrise.

The last picture comes from some bluebell woods near us last spring. I have tried the panning technique each year for the last three or four, and generally get something that I rather like. This one is a bit of a favourite.

Many other photographers have tried this, and it's worth looking at their work for inspiration. As an example, Julieanne Kost has done slow exposures from a car window, so that the motion of the vehicle represents panning across the subject. I've tried several times myself with limited success -- but that won't stop me trying again.

Impressions of a bluebell wood, #3.

Monday, 1 October 2012

100 not out

The past

Purely by chance I noticed that yesterday's post by Anthony was the 100th since the Wonky Horizons group was formed in March last year.

Looking back at some of those earlier articles was a timely reminder of how far we have come, not just photographically but in the strong camaraderie that has developed between the three of us. And whilst we each have our own styles we are not too proud to ask for and listen to advice or opinion from one another as we strive for photographic excellence. For me, this was most evident in the encouragement and support I received from Anthony and Philip in putting my LRPS panel together.

The present

Next Monday sees a first for us as we give a talk at Folkestone Camera Club - meeting up tomorrow evening to put the 'finishing touches' to our presentation.

The future

So, here's hoping for more of the same and another 100 blog posts.