Friday, March 31, 2006

Crocuses - arrival of spring in Nova Scotia

What is the photo of

These two photos are of crocuses that have just appeared in my garden, with the arrival of spring in Nova Scotia.

When was the photo taken

29 March, just before noon

Where was the photo taken

The photos were taken in my garden

Why was the photo taken

I was inspired to take these photos because these small colourful plants signal the arrival of spring. Everything around them is brown and ugly and tired after months of winter. These plants bring a dash of colour to an otherwise dull landscape. Of course, this is the type of image that I was trying to capture (spring growth amongst winter's dead) but have so far failed.

Why was this composition chosen

I started shooting from above because I wanted to showoff the colourful stamens against the light blue/purple petals. But then the idea of lying down on the grass to make myself level with the flowers popped into my head; I wanted to achieve a sense of scale and used the grass stalks to achieve that.

How was the photo processed

Both photos were shots in RAW. While shooting, I took a photo of a white plastic tag so I could get a correct white balance reading in Camera RAW. The exposure, shadows, brightness, saturation and curves were all adjusted in Camera RAW. In PS, I then tweaked the levels, adjusted the shadows/highlights to darken the background and lighten the foreground a little, dropped the hue to -2 to bring out the colour in the stamens, and added a slight contrast in curves just to give the whole photo a final boost. I then sharpened the image. To get the signature in each photo, I signed a piece of paper using a sharpie, scanned it in at a high resolution (12oo ppi), imported it into PS and cropped the best signature and adjusted the size. I then made the signature a brush type and recorded an action that basically opens up a new layer and selects that brush. All that is left for me to do is to 'stamp' the signature onto the photo. If you want more details of this process I can try to remember exactly how I did it.

How was the photo taken

1/160 at f6.3 - I wanted to blur the background
Focal length 44mm
ISO 100
Polarizer filter - to enhance the colour
*10 close-up lens - to get good detail.

How was the photo taken

1/125 at f5.6 - I wanted to blur the background
Exposure +0.33
Focal length 85mm
ISO 100
Polarizer filter - to enhance the colour


Looking from a new angle

What is the photo of: Industrial debris & gas canisters.

When was the photo taken: Friday 31st March 2006, 2pm.

Where was the photo taken: While out driving around Dubai on a quiet Friday morning (Friday = Sunday in the Middle East) looking for portrait inspiration I was distracted by the scene of a large fire.

The location is the Oasis Center which was gutted last September by fire (Gulf News article). The site is gradually being demolished. As usual in Dubai, safety can be a bit lax. Which in this case meant I was quite free to explore the site.

Why was the photo taken: These shots were taken almost as an after thought and certainly as a focus experiment for myself.

Why was this composition chosen: The light was very harsh, however the location was very unusual. Stark, parched, industrial, metalic and total non-organic. It could have little appeal. However it appealed to me in ways not usually found in Dubai - quiet, uncontrolled, raw and certainly not polished or 5 star...

How was the photo taken: ISO 200, fixed focal in the Sony DSC-S40 point and shoot with the half press and then reposition the shot to try and use the rules of three. White balance set to sun (technical huh?)

How was the photo processed: For speed, these were colour balanced and contrast balanced using Picasa software.

"Picture 1"

"Picture 4"

Thursday, March 30, 2006

A note: Ranking photos

There was some concern that ranking a photo was leading to more 'work'. I have just ranked Ivan's latest post and I have to say that it was actually easier and cleaner than the more conversive approach of before. It makes you think more carefully about the photo and I think leads to a better critique overall. I also found that one needs to be quite conservative in their scoring. I found myself wanting to score higher but if we do that we are going to end up with all of our photos with 8s and 9s and that is not realistic.

Ranking is still up to the individual but I would recommend a try first.


As Damian says "Expose to the Right..."

An interesting technical article from "The Luminous Landscape" site, which explains the why behind what Damian has stated on this blog about pushing the histogram exposure shape to the right (but not off the scale).

A good read, and there are many more on the site too. Check it out.

April's Assigment


I've had a think about this, and I've tried to make sure it's something we can all do, regardless of our geographical or seasonal location. Also, I wanted something that I don't think any of us have a passion for, or shown many examples of that style of work. So, the theme for April is "Portraits".

I want the scope to be as broad as possible, and can include human or animal portraits (this manages to sneak in seals and camels), as long as the face, features and emotion are there and prominent. Any style, colour or black and white, and any location is allowed. I'd like us to submit 2 images at least, and no more than 3, one of which should be something taken in direct response to this assignment, not just one from your archive. Digital manipulation is fine, but please describe what you did and why. Indicate which images are new and which are archive.

When submitting an entry, please give a technical and artistic description, not too long. Also, indicate in the blog post title "April Assignment - Portraits", and make sure we know who it is. Scoring should happen within a few days after the post. Entries should be as large a file as possible, to allow proper judging for sharpness etc. Something in the 500Kb to 1GB range should be fine.

Deadline for submission is 30 April, and the submissions (3 max, at least 1 new) can be judged by the other bloggers in either 1 or 3 sessions from now to the deadline. The scores over Damians to-be-decided catergories will be averaged for each blogger vote, and the average of the two scores used to define the final score. In the event of a tie, the winner is the one who scored the most 10's/9's/8's (in that order).

The "winner" gets to chose the next months assignment. Any questions, just email to all.

So, may the best portrait photographer win!!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Standard submission of photos and ranking

To follow is a standard hopefully simple approach to submitting photos and ranking them. Feel free to comment.

Here is a suggestion for a simple standard approach to posting the images. Basically

What is the photo of

When was the photo taken - most importantly the time

Where was the photo taken

Why was the photo taken; what motivated you to take the photo; what was the rational; what did the image say to you

Why was this composition chosen - this allows an insight into the mind of the photographer and why the image was prepared in that particular way

How was the photo taken; describe what equipment you used, how you used the light, the settings you used (basic info such as shutter speed, aperture, ISO, focal length)

How was the photo processed - so what steps were taken in photoshop to process the photo


I think it would be good if we could rank the photos but I agree with Grant that we don't want to generate too much work here. So, I am going to suggest some simple categories (this time with more thought) and a scale.

However, ranking photos can remain an option for the user. I will rank photos that I critique but I don't expect the same in return.

I do think though that if we rank a photo it makes us think more about the image and perhaps give it a better critique. It will also force us to give more thought to which photos are posted and hopefully generate more discussion rather than photos. However, I do have a tendency to turn fun things in to work and I want to avoid that here, so I think ranking should remain an option.

There are five categories. Each has a score of 10. The ranking of these photographs is the average of these scores. We should score conservatively because we can expect many photographs over time and for our skill to improve. Thus, we should be aiming for 6's and occasionally 7's. Scores of 8 and 9 should be very rare. A score of 10 implies that the photograph cannot be improved upon.

This is the score board

1 - No effort made -not worth the post it sits on
2 - Little effort made - the image shows serious technical defects, eg. overexposed
3 - Poor - likely to have serious shortcomings in technical skill, composition, subject matter, etc
4 - Below average - likely to have only minor shortcomings in technical skill and composition
5 - Satisfactory - in most regards the photo is acceptable but holds little interest to the eye
6 - Average - creates some interest and the technical skill, composition, etc have been competently handled. Few flaws. This is a good, but not outstanding photograph.
7 - Good - a strong image; it's creation (technical skill, etc) has been handled more than competently. This is an excellent photograph.
8 - Outstanding - this is an exceptional image, one that creates excitement and one that you should feel proud of.
9 - Wow - here is the Wow factor. An image of the highest quality.
10 - The picture cannot be improved. Consider yourself a genius.

And these are the Categories

Impact - this is your immediate impression of the photo. How does it make you feel when you first see the photo. Does it give you a strong feeling of power; does it hold your eye. The score for this category should be immediate. It is your gut feeling.

- Give a photo a high rating if you like the way it looks, if it attracts and holds your attention, or if it conveys an idea well. Consider the following : Is the subject(s) well placed. Has the photographer used the available resources in the image to create a good photograph. Is there a good arrangement of subjects with a symmetry that places objects in the most important areas (e.g., rule of thirds); is there a rhythm to the photo with regards to the color, spaces, moods, etc.

Light/Colour - Has the photographer made good use of the light. Was the photograph taken at the best time of day, under the best circumstances. Does the light add quality to the photo. Consider: Is there an effective balance of colours. Good selection of colour for the subject. Is there a creative use of colour, for example complementary colours, dark against light, strong against weak. Is there dynamic lighting. Does the pattern of light create a strong sense of mood.

Technical skill - this is a broad category. It includes the skill of using the camera/equipment and the skill of using photoshop. Consider: technical skill of using lighting, contrast, colour, the tonal range, focus, sharpness, shutter speed, filter usage, camera position, lens selection. In photoshop consider the use of the different techniques (e.g., levels, curves, etc), whether they have been applied appropriately and whether important steps were missed.

Originality - An original photograph is one that deliberately challenges our normal expectations. Has the photograph dealt with a new subject matter or a new style or approach to taking a genre of photograph (for example, landscape). Has the photographer brought us something new. Technical difficulty may also create originality. Consider: the degree of imagination; how new is the approach; a different style of cropping or use of the subject.


Minnis Bay, Kent

This is a picture I'd value some considered critique, using Damian's new system of categories and scoring. For my part, I'll try to structure the submission too.


Minnis Bay, Kent. Summer 2003.

Background and rational to the image

I wanted a panoramic format, since the sunset was spectacular and the shadows it cast on the ground were very graphic in feel. I wanted both elements in the picture.


Panoramic, but turned vertically, rather than horizontally, to get both the sunset and beach in shot. Horizon in the middle, as both sky and ground elements were very strong and I wanted both to be so. Also, this is an unusual use of the panoramic format, usually reserved for actual vertical structures, like skyscrapers and bridges etc. I searched for a ground pattern to lead into the sunset, which would also have nice shape and strong shadows.

Technical Matters

This was two images taken seconds apart, from the same spot, one of totally the sky, the other of totally the ground. Both exposed for their relative subjects, then merged in photoshop. Saturation boosted a little, contrast, levels and colour balance adjusted. Some distracting beach detritis removed to provide a cleaner graphic pattern. I think if it were now, I'd have picked a cleaner part of the beach and also removed more distracting bits later in PS. Layers merged, final balance, then resized and sharpened.

I still have the original files, and have always wanted to go back and redo, since my PS skills are now better, but this is a reasonable attempt.


I really like this image, and it turned out just as I had envisaged. Perhaps I need to redo it with my better PS skills, but it's still a shot that pleases me.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Should we rank our photos?

Hello All

Recently, I have signed up to a stock agency and as a result I have my images ranked. This is actually very satisfying because it provides an immediate measure of quality. The scale actually starts at 6 and goes up to 9. If you go below 6 then the image is not suitable. Images of quality 6 should also be deleted unless they show a unique image. Here is the scale in detail:

9 - Wow
8 - outstanding
7 - good
6 - average

The rank is based on composition, colour, sharpness, subject matter, interest, technical skill and originality. So this led me to believe that in addition to the critiques, we should rank the photos that are posted. If we all decide that this is a good idea we can think about how. For example, should we have a mark out of 10 for each of the seven categories above. I thought about 5 but it gives little latitude. Once all the marks have been awarded we simply divide by 7 to get an average score. You can easily set up an spreadsheet in Excel with the titles above in the first row and in the last column have an equation to calculate the average (=average(B1:B7). So our scoring might look something like this (quite difficult to have a description for each mark):

0 - Delete this piece of trash
1 - No effort made -not worth the post it sits on
2 - Little effort made - still not worth the post
3 - Poor - think twice before posting
4 - Below average, not satisfactory, still think twice before posting
5 - Satisfactory
6 - Average
7 - Good
8 - Outstanding
9 - Wow
10 - Cannot get better than this

I would imagine that we will never have a 10 and only occasionally would we reach 9. I have posted 15 images with the stock agency; one is a 6, three are 8 and the remainder are 7. These scores are also based on saleability which does not concern us here, but I would expect most of our photos to have ratings of 7 and 8 with the occasional 6 or 9. Let me know if this is getting to be too much work.

Having a rating system will make you think twice before posting and should stop us (or rather me) from posting too many photos, thus encouraging more discussion for each photo.

What do you all think?


More Graffitti

This image I took sometime ago at an underpass in Canterbury. I loved the symmetry of the structure of the bridge supports and the colours and vibrancy (is that a word?) of the graffitti. I tried to get a good symmetrical image by cropping after taking the original. I also boosted the shadow detail to create a balanced image and then optimised contrast and boosted the colours. Getting front to back sharpness in low-light with a compact point-and-shoot 4MP digicam was tricky..getting enough light in demands a more open aperture, which in turn means shallow depth of field. Using a smaller aperture (higher f) gets the depth of field, but lets in less light, and thus camera shake is an issue. So, I bumped up the ISO to 200, wedged myself into one of the support structures for stability, used a moderate aperture of 5.6 (which on a digital compact with a shorter focal length means greater depth of field than the same aperture on a DSLR), and shot in RAW (yes, it had RAW, which was a major benefit and almost unheard of then on such cameras) to get a sharp image with detail in the foreground and rear. I really like this image.

As ever, comments welcomed from my co-bloggers!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Final shots of Halifax at night

Here are the remainder of the shots that I took of Halifax at night. They represent different views, with different building compositions, light and reflected light.


This is the Halifax casino. I used the 100-300 telephoto lens to focus on the building and the reflections. I tried cropping the image to remove the sky but the photo becomes too much for the eye.

Waterfront and Citadel

I shot this photo because I really liked the two beams of strong blue light. The building composition was interesting too. Again I used the 300m telephoto.

The Citadel

I centered this shot on the Citadel and love the almost pastel colours of reflected light. The buildings of the waterfront create some scale against the tall background buildings.


Dancing lights

This photo turned out better than I expected because when shooting I didn't notice the two layers of light. They look like dancing lights similar to the Northern Lights.

Near Wingham, Kent

I took this image on the same weekend I took the ones of Deal Pier. We were out walking, and I saw this nice scene, with curving river, fence, tree, reflection and it all seemed to work. It was not great in colour, due to the harsh light, but I thought it may work in B/W.

Comments welcomed as usual.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Kit and advancement question...

Hi Guys,

A quick question that will be useful to me, but also to others... can you briefly describe your set up?

Camera, lenses, tripods, software, output, choice of printers, medium, paper etc?

How did you make the transition from snaps to time consuming, loving, tempremental, emotional shots?

I am considering jumping from snap happy Sony digital to Canon Eos 350D and Photoshop CS2 (free through my work thankfully).

Will be using Kelby's book "Photoshop CS2 Book for Digital Photographers" (there are no specialist classes out here) to improve processing skills and have started posting on a local site with regular meet ups and field trips to learn from better photographers than myself...

A good way to progress? Comments.

If this thread should be deleted to preserve the image flow, let me know and I'll delete.

Thanks again though...

Halifax, Canada - Skyline at Night

I have recently (the past week) been taking loads of shots of Halifax for a local company who wants some pictures on their bare walls. Several blogs will appear in the next few days of this work but here is one shot that I took last night, or rather early this morning (about 1am). I am shooting from across the estuary on the adjacent town of Dartmouth. The night was incredible; very still and for Halifax quite warm (about -2c). This was taken at f9.0 for 30 seconds at 100mm. I have never done this type of work before so I would much appreciate some critical thoughts. Damian on assignment in Halifax.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

PROJECT: Halifax, Canada - scenes through the day

Here are some more shots of Halifax. They were taken over several days from two vantage points from the town of Dartmouth. I wanted the sunrise (rises in front of the skyline), daytime, sunset (sets to the right), dusk and darkness. The sunrise and sunsets were not spectacular but I got some interesting shots. Most of these shots involved me almost freezing to death since I spent 2-3 hours at each shoot. Sitting still on rocks in freezing temperatures. I also made several visits to find the right exposure and composition. But it was worth it. I think. All shots were taken with a tripod at shutter speeds upto 30 seconds. The exposure needed adjusting to push the histogram over to the right. Most of the shots were taken with the EFs 17-85 mm lens. The last shot was taken by attaching the camera to the underside of the tripod so that it was hanging upside down very close to a rock that was sitting low down on the water's edge. This allowed me to pick up lots of the reflections. Comments greatly encouraged.


Morning Rise - 6am

1/6 sec at f5.6 plus 1.67 exposure adjustment
EF-s 17-85 mm

Morning moon - 700am

1/15 sec at f20 plus 1.67 exposure adjustment
EF-s 17-85 mm

Daytime - 1000am

1/60 sec at f10 plus 1.67 exposure adjustment
EF-s 17-85 mm

Dusk - 630pm

30 secs at f22 plus 1.67 exposure adjustment
EF-s 17-85 mm

Rush Home Across the Bridge - 700pm

30 secs at f16 plus 1.67 exposure adjustment
EF 100-300 mm

Time for Tea - 720pm

30 secs at f7.1 plus 1.67 exposure adjustment
EF 100-300 mm

Night time - 1am

30 secs at f7.1 plus 1.67 exposure adjustment
EF-s 17-85 mm

Sanderlings, Sable Island, Nova Scotia

On my drive home from the very east of the island I saw these sanderlings flying up and down the beach searching for some grub. So I stopped and tried shooting a few images. The problem was that it was dusk (so little light for fast shots), the birds were moving fast but there was spectacular surf that I wanted in focus. I decided to focus on the crashing surf rather than the birds. As a result, many shots had birds entirely out of focus but a few worked reasonably well, even though in these shots the birds were not in sharp focus. Here are three.

Monday, March 20, 2006

A few shots from Musandam, Oman


It's been a while since my last... post. Can I just say how much your recent shots have impressed me. Damian's sand high-sided tunnel is stunning, the seal's are captured so dramatically and Ivan's revisiting of Deal pier is a leason for me in how to frame and use light... well done guys.

So, on to the advice corner. Here are a few shots from a trip to Musandam a few days ago. Musandam is part of Oman that has been called the Norway Of Arabia. It has stunning mountains plunging down into ffyord like inlets. Only recently opened up to tourists it is unspoilt and beautiful in a rugged way...

Posting a few here... should be more restrained, however just keen for input. Most shots are un-altered and straight from the camera.

The pano is my first. Used a great free bit of software called autostitch - though I guess you guys know it already...

Thanks again.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Deal and Pier, Kent

Last weekend, I visited some friends in Deal, on the southeast coast of the UK, near Dover. Deal has seen better days, but has some undoubted coastal charm, and an interesting pier. I've photographed this many times in the past, but this time I got up early (05:45) to make sure I got the early light, no people, and could try out some long exposure images.

Using the lowest ISO setting of 100, a narrow aperture of f22, and a tripod, I was able to get exposures from 2-20 seconds throughout the morning. This renders the sea a smooth, almost silvery surface, akin to mist.

Using 2 ND grads (0.3 and 0.6) with an 81B warm-up filter meant I could balance the sky with the sea, and achieve a pleasing colour to the images.

I took loads between 0600 and 0730, and I've put the best on here. I also took some when the sun was fully up, looking back on Deal seafront from the end of the pier. Using the ND grads again achieved more drama in the quite stormy sky.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

A collection of colourful images

Here are a few colourful images to be critiqued by the Critical Eye.

Canoe, Kejimkujik National Park

Kejimkujik National Park
is a spectacular place. It comprises several large lakes within which there are numerous islands that one can camp on. This picture was taken in October when the trees were in their fall colour. I like this image because of the canoe in the foreground (gives the eye a focus), the colours in the grass, the curvature of the shoreline and the stillness of the lake.

Halifax in Fall

I just came across this image while editing a few photos. I like it because there is a great range of colour, everywhere you look. There is also a structure to the photo; grass and shrub in the foreground and then shrubs and trees in the background. There is a lot to look at. I wonder if it is too much. But it gives me the impression of a painting.

Mushrooms and tree

I think I took this photo on the same day. I like the colours in this photo because they are simple and there is good contrast. Tell me what you think...


Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Horse Silhouette, Sable Island, Nova Scotia

On evening upon driving home I saw this group of horses upon a dune. It happened to be at the end of a sunset. The horse that is looking up allows the viewer to recognise that the other three bodies are grazing horses. The sunset behind is nice but it is subdued so that it does not steal the show from the horses. I find the image very pleasant to look at; its very calming. The image has been cropped to provide more focus on the horses. Damian

A Walk on the Beach - Snow, Pebbles and Ice - Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

A few weekends ago I went north to Ingonish, Cape Breton; a large island just north of mainland Nova Scotia and about a 5 hour drive from Halifax. I spent a part of the day walking along the beach. At first I had a hard time finding something to photograph, but all of my pictures were actually on the ground. The beach was partly covered in snow and ice and there were pebbles scattered around. Once I saw this, I spent about an hour looking for good compositions and shooting photos.