Sunday, December 21, 2008

To New York and Beyond!

As I write this I am waiting for my flight to New York. We are going for 5 days (until Boxing Day) and then two days after I get back I am off to Sable Island for work. So I would imagine that I will not be on the blog until February when I return.

I have my camera with me so hopefully I will capture some decent New York images for the blog.

See you all then,...


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Something from the Market

I always have my camera with me when I am selling at the market and am always looking. So I saw this. The girl was walking around with this brilliant yellwo scarf and the green cat grass. The contrast was startling to me. Then she came over to my table and POW...I took her down.

Shot with my great and most beloved fixed 50mm, 1.4 lens...


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A couple of Venetian images

Both of these were taken in 2004 using my old Nikon Coolpix. Crap camera - although it did do RAW - but somewhere as beautiful as this can be captured with a disposable camera and still look good.

They were both early morning, before the crowds. I like the one of the shadows under the arches, with the solo figure walking away. Also, I tried to get a new take on the tired theme of Venetian gondolas. Did I succeed?


Sunday, December 07, 2008

Just a little something...

Well, not much to offer this week. Shot this while in St John's, Nfld during the summer. Its kind of fun with the plant pots and the broken pot and the various fun colours, typical of houses here. Lots of lines up and down.


Friday, December 05, 2008

Dolomite Flower Meadow - Part 2

I posted the sister image to this quite a while ago, but I found this one - which is portrait rather than landscape format - while browsing my back catalogue. I think I prefer this one to the landscape image.



A Venetian "Before and After"

This one is quite radical, and from the days (about 4 years ago) when I used to make really big changes to images, including new skies, colour temperature, adding/removing elements. I don't really do that these days, but I do like the change from the original to the manipulated image in this before and after.

Below is the original. It was taken at/near sunrise, so it's nice and quiet, few boats and NO tourists. But, the feel was cold and not what I pictured in my mind.

The manipulated image has a new sky, selected with the characteristics to match (i.e. light coming from the right direction etc). The buildings and water were warmed up to match, and then the two carefully put together using layers and layer masks. Took a bit of time, but I think the effect is quite convincing. I wanted an almost painting-type of quality, as I thought it went well with the classical scene.

Thoughts welcome as ever


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

More night shots...

Ventured out again a few evening ago with a Cambridge chum (not Gareth). My friend, Bob, has a new Nikon D300 - man that camera has great high ISO sensitivity and low noise. Awesome. Make the 450D look a bit shit, actually, in that regard, but I was able to get both shots below at ISO 200-400, 30" exposure, f8-9. I have also just got a remote control, so I can move to bulb (i.e. >30s) exposures with mirror lock up, so hopefully I can swap high ISO performance for longer exposures at lower ISO...

Anyway - here are my shots:

The first is looking from Garrett Hostel Bridge towards Trinity Bridge. It was a long exposure (30"), and I may have overcooked it a bit, but there's nice softness on the water, and check out the movement of the tree on the left. It was quite blowy, which has captured a nice effect, I think. What you don't get from this is quite how dark it was - it was very dark, and I only managed to focus by setting one of the focal points to a distant light, then recomposing and pressing the shutter (2 second delay, mirror lock up and then 30" exposure).

The next image is Cambridge's newest attraction. It's the so-called "Chronophage" (time-eater) clock, which forms the corner of the newly refurbished Corpus Christi college. See here or here for more details.

I took this from across the street, with the telephoto on a tripod. I wanted to get the whole thing in the shot, and avoid reflections too. I'll revisit this to get some detail shots sometime also. As it moves, a long exposure led to some very blurry shots, and the beastie couldn't be seen. So, I went for about 1/20 second exposure, to get a mostly-frozen image, and capture it as it looks, backlit in eerie blue. Interestingly (geekily), the shutter speed can be verified, since the second "hand" LEDs do one revolution per second, and there are 3 of them illuminated in the shot, 3/60 = 1/20. Also, note the time - 10:45pm, just before we headed to the nearby Eagle pub for last orders.


Monday, December 01, 2008

Now for something a little different...

A few months ago I received permission to spend hours in our local natural history museum photographing bird eggs. Bird eggs have amazing intricate patterns, and they are of different sizes and shapes. Anyway, here are three eggs from a guillemot (seabird for those who are not ornithologically gifted). They are pointed so that they don't roll out of the cliff nest but rather spin on their axis.

Anyway, I shot the eggs using a tripod and some lighting with the eggs on either a white or black mat. I used photoshop to remove the background and create a pure white (255,255,255) or pure black (0,0,0) background. I have lots of images to work through but thought I would share one with you. Damian

On The Road - Mile 2,226

This picture is a crop of a larger shot of the Mexico's Gulf. I burned the blacks to remove the sea. I also wanted to have a minimalism feeling. The lines of the clouds are supposed to give a feeling of movement, the shot being a part of the "On The Road" series.

On the Road - Mile 2,226 : Pine Island

Here is the original shot :

Friday, November 28, 2008

Aya Sophia Lights

Taken at the Aya Sophia (Hagia Sophia) in Istanbul.

Playing with my new 50mm prime lens. As you'd expect it was very limited light in the interior of the building.

I was drawn to the curlicue lights, the bulbs and that not all were working. Again, I liked the very tight depth of field from the prime lens.

I don't mind the slight lens flare...

What do you think?

f/1.6 1/80sec ISO200

Roots On Venice Beach

Taken 11am on a very bright sunny morning on Venice Beach, LA.

A four piece blues band were busking and I could get in quite close. Liked this shot with the focus as the drummer's hat and the Roots logo. The more obvious shot was the classic look of the vocalist, however I liked dropping him out through the depth of field...

I think it works well in mono.

f/5.6 1/640 ISO200


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Early winter

Sorry it's been a while since I've posted. Here are a couple. Nothing too spectacular, just a couple of quickies from our big snow storm last weekend.

First: I think I was hoping for more with the icicles. I think the crop helped as there was a lot of other stuff in the frame, but I don't think this is a jump-out-at-you shot. Discuss: how would you have improved it?

Second: One of those snapshot-of-the-pets that appeals mostly to the petowner. I did a little editing with this one, such as removing the fence in the background. I also saturated the horse a bit extra using some layer ideas I got while reading about HDR. I wanted to make the horse look a little more vibrant compared to the surroundings, while not overdoing it, and cropped out the foreground that was basically a bunch of snow. Thoughts? Maybe I should post the original too.

Plus I'll add some quick comments to recent posts here. (i) Love your sandwich bay crop, Damian! (ii) The HDR images: very impressive! I like #2 the best for similar reasons, though #1 is pretty spectacular too. I don't care much for the rocks on the right, though. (iii) Ivan: the Cambridge at night pictures are gorgeous! Shame about the branch in the second one. I do like the first one as well, though, and think that the strange hues and dark foreground give the image a neat eerie feel. Well done!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Another viewpoint on Sandwich Bay

If I saw what Ivan saw on Sandwich Bay this is what I would have done. Just a different viewpoint.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Light in the Valley

Another shot from the Shropshire archives. This one taken on that recent October trip this year. This was shot from a good distance away, using the telephoto image-stabilised lens all the way out to 600mm.

Lovely light picking out the relief of the land, and the detail of the wet road in the middle slight dip is visible as a nice feature. Great land contours and overall quite pleased with this one.


Friday, November 21, 2008

Sandwich Bay - yet another mono

I took lots of pictures of the wet sand patterns when we were there a few weeks ago. I was thinking that, with some post-capture work, they'd come out quite nice, and I think they have.

Enough Sandwich Bay monos..for now.


Another from Sandwich Bay

A colour one this time. Concentrating on the wet sand shapes and clouds.

I processed two RAW files to tiffs, then blended them in PS, with some dodging and burning to bring out the contrast in the wet sand patterns. Lightened the strip of sand to enhance the effect. It's more punchy than I saw it, but I like the image.


I see lots of HDR images on Flickr. Some of them are great; subtle blending of carefully chosen images to gain a wider exposure range than the camera can normally handle - done well, they should look pretty much like how the eye sees dynamic range (ca. 12 stops) rather than the usual 4-6 stops of digital sensors.

Some of them are total shit. I mean, really freaky looking, and used in circumstances where the contrast range wouldn't be that wide, so they end up looking like high saturation, low contrast crap. Pointless.

I have posted three images, none of them (repeat NONE OF THEM) mine, but all described as HDR on Flickr. I think these are all at the Good end of the spectrum, but I have my fave, and for a reason. Which is your fave, and why, in the context of what you think about HDR images.

I sometimes blend two tiffs (derived from separate workings of the same RAW file) together, to achieve a more natural exposure, but I've never tried - or felt the need - for HDR. CS doesn't do HDR, but I know later versions do.

Have you guys tried this, and, if so, what do you think? Do you have any HDR images to post? If not, what blending techniques do you use?



Flickr stats revisited

A while ago, I posted to the blog my thoughts about how I could use Flickr to help me choose/confirm choices for up-coming competitions. Of course, this means I need to get those images on Flickr a good deal before the competitions. Failing that, I can always look back with hindsight, and see if the placings (or not) in competitions match up to the "interest" in an image, as calculated by Flickr.

Below is a screenshot of the most recent stats for my photostream on Flickr. The "star" means favourite by another user, and the bubble means "comment".

Interesting that Window and Chair and Sunset Beach Walkers are up there (in 1st and 3rd place); these did v well for me last year. Bath Crescent is second, but did nothing last year (although did get selected for the Annual Exhibition this year), so not full agreement with the Flickr stats. White Peacock bombed in a recent projected image competition, although is 4th on Flickr. Reculver got a Highly Commended, and it's 5th on Flickr, so not bad there. Shadowman, 6th on Flickr, won me Creative Image of the Year in 2007. Peek-a-boo (Flickr 21) got me a 3rd place, but it's not been on Flickr as long.

So, mixed bag. I think I need to standardise things. I need to submit all images to the same Pools (for exposure to wider Flickr) and then track the interest for a set period of time. I assume views = interest, comments = more interest and favs = more still, which is kind of how Flickr works it out. Also, I think I need to standardise the tags on images. This is almost impossible, since different images need different tags, unless I pick very generic ones (like camera model) or don't use tags at all for all images.

Interesting from yesterday's Cambridge night posts, the order is Kings 1, River Cam 2, Clare Bridge 3, which is what Dams thought too.

Still, useful to see some rough agreement between results and Flickr, but it's not statistically controlled, so impossible to draw any conclusions as currently running.

Thoughts? Suggestions?


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Clare Bridge

Another image from last night.

Clare College Bridge (1640)

Info from Wikipedia:

The oldest of Cambridge's current bridges, this bridge in classical style was built in 1639–40 by Thomas Grumbold (d.1659). It survives as the oldest due to all its contemporaries being destroyed by the parliamentarian forces in the Civil War, to make the town of Cambridge more defensible. Many different stories are told to explain the missing section of the globe second from the left on the south side of the bridge. One rumour is that the builder of the bridge received (what he considered to be) insufficient payment, and in his anger, removed a segment of the globe.

I cropped it quite tightly on top, as there were lots of distractions above - is it too tight? What do you think...?


Cambridge by night

Last night, a chum and I headed off to take some long exposure night shots around Cambridge. It was really to help him learn his new DSLR (Nikon D300, the one with the great high ISO performance), since he's quite new to photography, and never had a DSLR before. I was hampered by the fact that I have lost the tripod shoe to attach my camera to the tripod, so had to balance the camera on whatever structures were available. Not ideal, but I coped.

The first image was taken near the Mill pond, by balancing the camera on the camera bag, so quite low down. Long exposure (30", f9, 400 ISO). Got some nice colours and soft movement on the river and sky. It was very dark indeed, so focussing was an issue. I can't rely on manual focus due to wearing glasses, so I locked on to one of the distant lights as a focus point. I also used the live view, but this was bad in such low light to focus.

The next image was again 30", f9, 1SO 400. This was balanced on fence post. The original RAW was very close to this image, but slightly darkened the sky (one RAW processing) and slightly adjusted the foreground and buildings (a second processing of the RAW), and blended the resultant tiffs in PS. I then cloned out some distracting grasses that were right in front of the camera and blurry, adjusted levels, cropped a little and then the image was complete. Quite like this one. It's a shame about the bright branches upper right, but couldn't be avoided due to where I had to place the camera. I considered cloning them out, but couldn't face the hours that would take...

Comments welcomed.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Missing in Action

Anyone know the whereabouts of Stasher1 (last seen 04 October 2008) or, more worryingly, DXBluey (last seen 03 September 2008).

Even Gareth has been very quiet of late. Now, he changed jobs in early October and has had "the shits" for the last week, but that doesn't explain it fully...

Stasher has changed jobs too (in September), and God knows what's happened to "I'll post a lot more now that I have an SLR" DXBluey...

Hope these guys are OK - can they check in sometime...we're worried.

Stat Fest!

A new website resource for assessing key elements of your DSLRs performance, with the ability to compare other models.

Makes interesting reading, esp the bit about high ISO performance - gives the highest ISO above which image quality (as defined in the blurb) becomes unacceptable. Shows that most high ISOs in consumer and enthusiast SLRs (i.e ours!) are really just spec-dressing (like high pixel counts in compacts) and offer little real ultility, until to you get to pro-spec cameras. For example, the 450D and 40D come in the 690-710 ISO range, while the Nikon D700 is at 2303.

This tallies with what I have found; that using ISO up to 400 is brilliant, 800 is OK (as it's just above the 692 calculated for the 450D) and can be worked on with software, but 1600 is quite noisy at times, and I refrain from using it.

That said, high ISO is really only useful for sports, action and wedding photography, so it's not an issue. Landscapers can use a tripod, stick it on 100-400 ISO, and get great image quality in RAW.


Monday, November 17, 2008

A Larger View

Here is a larger view of the screen shot. Now, the file was saved as a JPEG and I have saved it as a JPEG several times so there will have been degradation of both images somewhat. Damian

Friday, November 14, 2008

More (or less) noise

So I have done something similar as Ivan to show how Camera Raw 4 handles noise for comparison with the Canon software. The image was taken outside at 530 in the morning in May so still quite dark. It was shot with my Canon 40D, fixed 50mm 1.4 lens, 1/60 at f2.0 and the ISO was at 3200. The first screen shot shows the unprocessed RAW file zoomed in at 165%. So you can see noise in the sky and along the edges of the building. The second screen shot shows the imagealso at zoom 165% but processed in Camera RAW 4. All I have done is reduced the luminance and colour noise, and corrected any colour aberrations. No other adjustments were made. Now, I didn't spend a lot of time on the processing so you can consider this as a minimal result.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Roaches

I'm not sure if I've posted this image before, so I did a quick search and I don't think so.

Anyway, an image taken a few years ago in the Peak District National Park. A lovely place, increasingly overrun with Manks (look that up).

The Roaches are a collection of rock formations/hills of particular scenic interest.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Another excercise in croppage

Which one do you prefer, and why?


Note: the images are soft/unsharp - ignore that. It's the cropping I'm interested in.


River Cam, Grantchester Meadows, a few weeks back. Works better in mono than colour. False (PS) bokeh - does it work?



Now, most of you know I'm a Scotsman - cut me in half, and, like a stick of rock, it'll say ALBA all the way through. But, I've been down here in the land of the Sassenachs for nearly 16 years, living and working; when asked, I'll say I'm only here because there are not enough clever English people to do the work, but I'm only kidding.

Scotland has it's own rugged beauty. No doubt. But this shot - which I found in my archives - sums up England in all it's rural, verdant beauty. Doesn't matter where it is, it's gorgeous.

Enjoy. Rule Brittania!


Noise? What noise?

A screenshot showing a before and after noise reduction on a shot taken whilst in Shropshire.

The shot was taken at 1600 ISO, and is noisy. It's been brightened to show the ISO artifacts.

The after shot has been brightened by the same amount, but has had luminance and chroma noise adjusted too, using the Canon Digital Photo Professional. It's lost a little detail, but the effects are pretty good, I think.

What experience do you have with noise reduction software?


Monday, November 10, 2008


My entry for this week is this photo showing hoof prints over the top of a dune on Sable Island. Shot on 14 January 2006 at close to 5pm. 1/60th at f4.0, ISO 200, focal=17mm I tried in both colour and BW and much prefer the latter.  All editing was done in Camera RAW (basic stuff like temperarture, levels, contrast) and the image was converted to BW in PS. Damian

original, RAW image

after editing

Friday, November 07, 2008

Photo Credit

Again, on a trawl, I found these. My two published guidebook images. For an Alistair Sawday's Travel Guide. The owner of the Castello (where we had our honeymoon in 2004) saw me taking pics, and asked if he could use them in the upcoming edition. I said yes, and when we got back, it was confirmed by the publisher, and I got a free copy with my photo credit. Both images are mine, although only one credits me. No money involved, only prestige...and they spelled my name right - thank God.


Play ball with me?

A shot of a friends dog, Dolly, taken recently.

Very high ISO (1600, not so high these days, I guess), and converted to mono.

She waits with the ball in her lap, patiently, for someone to play!


Before and After

Sometimes it's interesting to see how an image started, as well as the final output. I think it may be instructional to do a few of these, and get comments on both the image before and after, the artistic/photographic process, and the techniques involved.

The pair here, I used the shadow/highlight function to lift the dark shadows of the pier. Then, I used levels to bring the sky and some of the mid-tones of the sea back, to balance a bit.

Not a great image, but I think it's improved for these manipulations, which are only possible in post-processing, not in capture.

Before - deep shadows on Pier, lack of contrast in sky:

After - lifting of shadows selectively on Pier, more contrast in sky and better tone in sea:


My first digital picture

I found this a few days ago, while looking through old files.

Taken in 2001, with a Canon PowershotS S40, which was a market-leading, 4MP compact camera with manual AND RAW (almost unheard of in non-DSLRs, and there weren't many DSLRs either...). And it cost nearly £700!! I traded that in for a Nikon Coolpix 5400 (shit camera, put me off Nikon for life, which is daft), then the 350D (which was great) and now the 450D. In that time, it's gone from 4MP compact to 12MP DSLR, and price has come down nearly by half. Progress, eh?

I think this was taken about 100 yds from my old place in Kent, when the battery was charged up and I headed outside. It's a crap picture, but I was trying to capture the movement in the wheat. At least the horizon is not bang in the middle...


Another from the Critical Light vaults...

This post, and resultant comment, is one of my faves, as it covers photo critique and aspects of workflow too. Good back and forth between myself, Dams and G.

"What are you thinking...?"


Tuesday, November 04, 2008

My picks of the three years

Well, I quickly ran through all of the blogs and chose those images that jumped out at me, for the WOW factor and the memories. Most are from Ivans' blogs which is not surprising given the number he has posted. Here they are...

Few pics to end week
Specifically the St. Margaret's Headland, Kent, UK pic. This shot is excellent and I don't seem to remember seeing it but I really like it. Great texture, great colours, great mood and interesting composition.

The first shot. I still like this shot and seems to bring nack memories of the early blogs. 
Of all of the Miksang blogs, this one takes the biggest chunk for me, and biggest effort from Ivan.
The chocolate face is excellent.
Love the sky of this shot and the immensity of space.

And this one

Lighten Up!
I don't recall this shot either but really like it. Different composition for a flower pic and nice and bright. 


Monday, November 03, 2008


Last year while sailing in Halifax I shot this picture as we sailed under the bridge. It was around 5pm. It works better in BW than colour. I like it.

1/60th at f18.0. ISO 400. F=41mm


Thursday, October 30, 2008

"These are a few of my favourite things..." Part 1

As part of my self-imposed 3rd anniversary celebrations for Critical Light, I'd like us to get all misty-eyed and nostaligic, and find posts and/or discussion threads that we consider to be our favourites.

They can be anything. At all. And for any reason. Serious or funny.

Among my favourites are the times when Damian and I went 12 rounds on the whole Miksang thing. We clearly have different views on this, and it's all cool now, but it wasn't always that way. It didn't get nasty (or not that nasty), but if there hadn't been nearly 3000 miles of water between us, I think he'd have come down and chibbed* me one.

*there's prize for the first one to confirm what "chibbed" means.

Here's a link to one such discussion, from the post entitled "Miksang it up a bit". It's a cracker.

A cautionary tale

New, it seems, is not always better. In the mega-pixel DSLR war (which seems to have gone nuts again after a period of relative calm), the following quote from the highly-respected on it's newly posted review of the new Canon 50D, the sister model (not replacement, we are told) to both Gareth's and Damian's 40D.

"RAW noise

Finally let's take a look a the raw output of the EOS50D next to the ten megapixel 40D. Removing any in-camera noise reduction and processing the images using Adobe Camera Raw (without NR) gives us the nearest thing to a 'level playing field' for assessing the relative noise levels of the two cameras' sensors. Despite the fact that the 50D is the newer camera it shows visibly more chroma and luminance noise than the 40D. Considering the 50D's much more tightly packed sensor (4.5 MP/cm² vs 3.1 MP/cm² on the 40D) this comes hardly as a surprise. It would have been unreasonable to expect Canon's engineers to overcome the laws of physics."

At 15MP, there is clearly not much room for movement on the pixel/interference/noise front vs the 10MP 40D. My new 450D (12MP) seems to be virtually identical to the old 350D, but it may show some signs of increased noise at higher ISOs. Thankfully, I don't use them that much, and the RAW software handles noise (chroma and luminance) very well, so no difference in effect to the 8MP 350D. Phew. However, it's clearly on/near it's limit at 12 for APS-C sensors, so 15 is clearly tipped over the edge. It has to be said that it's all good up to about 800, so no impact if you have a 50D, but clearly it's having to work harder for about the same/less image quality. For a shed load more money. Hmmm.

For us lot, if we did want more pixels (for larger prints or more flexibility in cropping) then it has to full size sensor, so the 5D MkII at 21MP is the clear choice, but that's the price of a decent second-hand car.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Neither beach nor tree

Looking for something to post this week, I came across this little fellow from earlier this year. It fits in with the bands of colour theme that emerged in recent posts, I think. :) It's fascinating that a moth could evolve such vivid colours, especially given that this particular one decided to camouflage himself against a flat black post.

Apologies in advance to Ivan or whoever else might complain "not another bloody bug picture!" :D

Sable beach at dusk

I took this shot on Sable island on 11 January 2007 at 18:10, so quite late. It was shot on a tripod at 30 seconds, f9.0, ISO 100 with my 17-85mm lens set at 35mm. I selectively sharpened the sand in the foreground and left the remaining photo untouched. I really like the colours in this photo. The browns in the sand, the greens in the sea and the blurred surf zone. Damian

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

More on CS4

I found this good review online. Click here for details.

I think this is on my Christmas list...


3rd Anniversary Celebrations

Dear All

Critical Light will be three years old on 25th November 2008. Here is a link to that first post. Looking at my aspirations for the blog, I think we can safely say "mission accomplished". I know blogging is soooo 2005 (according to an article on the radio recently), but I can't imagine doing this on Twitter...

To celebrate this achievement, and the fact that we have grown from only 2 contributors (myself and Dams) to now seven members (if not all contributors on a regular basis - you know who you are... ;-)), I thought it might be nice, on 25 November (or thereabouts) to post a picture depicting or inspired by the theme of "Three".

It can be anything at all, as long as three is clear or strongly implied in the image. Carte Blanche, as the French would say.

It may be good to have a small competition, where we vote for our favourite image on that theme. We can't vote for our own, but we can express our preferences, ranked as 1st, 2nd and 3rd (of course). Max 2 images to be entered per person. A deadline for submission and voting will be set later.

Let me know what you think.


Monday, October 27, 2008

Another Sandwich Bay mono image

Just finished working on this one - really like how it's turned out in mono, the contrast in the sky and grasses, and that band of sea and beach (with tiny tiny walkers in the distance) works well to my eye.


Sandwich Bay (Kent) mono

Taken this weekend, as we visited friends in Kent. I loved the seascapes in Kent, and miss the sea terribly now we are landlocked in Cambridge.

On this occaision, it was a bright, cold, clear day, with lots of great skies, good light, wet sand and wide open spaces. Hardly a soul on the beach, except us.

This one appealed to me because the sand was wet, picking up the reflections of the sky, which looked huge through the wide angle lens.

Mono seems to work better than colour in this case, since it gives emphasis to the tones rather than it all looking blue.