Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year wishes

Forsaking my usual black background for florals, I've gone for soft and subtle with shades of pink to finish off 2012.

Tomorrow is a new year, a new canvas, time to try new things: Have a great New Year everyone.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The emotional dimension

The goal, so I am told, is to envision the final picture before you press the shutter release; it's called having 'artistic vision'. But, I have to admit, that for me the vision often comes later on. Take this picture for example; on the screen I had a technically good, full colour, picture but it just wasn't doing anything for me. My initial vision to capture the wind-swept emptiness, had come up short.

Then I decided to make it a black and white and darken the blue sky. Suddenly it ceased to be a picture about water and sky and became one about horizon-less tones of light and dark, and cloud shapes that reflected a wind swept tree. Finally split toned with hints of blue and yellow and it became a moody, surrealistic, landscape which echoed the, windswept, desolate feeling that I experienced that day at the Waipara River Mouth. 

Perhaps it has less to do with 'vision' and more to do with 'emotion'; recreating emotion is not just about capturing visual components but presenting them in a way that elicits the appropriate emotional response.

It seems to me to be a picture that needs a large canvas ...

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Favourite model

My favourite model, again. She's not quite taking direction yet, but if I follow her around long enough something good transpires ...
From Christmas day, all natural light.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Little tip makes big difference

The week before last, I attended a workshop by Trey Ratcliff. It was a great day with lots of useful information. But, it's turning out that the most useful takeaway from the day was a very simple tip about not processing all your photographs as soon as they are taken.

My habit was to return from a shoot and then process that shoot before embarking on the next shoot. This created a lot of self-induced pressure to complete processing quickly so that I could move on. The consequence was that processing often didn't get the attention it deserved, and sometimes good pictures got passed over completely. Since the workshop I have been processinga shoot quickly in Lightroom (quick adjustments only) and then moving the very best pictures into a 'To be processed' collection. Then, when I am good and ready, I can dip into that collection and process a few photos.

Without this approach I would never have made this picture from the Weka Pass Railway - it simply required too much work to complete as part of the 'shoot and process' workflow. But I had gone back and dragged it (with many others) into my newly created 'To be processed' folder where it later caught my eye. Thanks Trey.

PS. See 21 October for the original picture.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Home grown models

Photography is expensive enough without having to hire models to pose for your photos. But there's a way to get free models - get married, have children, get them married and soon you have little models everywhere. Here's one of my favourite models - Indie.
Just turn to the left ... yes, that's good. Hold it ...

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Oxford Vintage Fair

Actually, to give it its full title; Oxford Country Garden Vintage Fair and Fete - at least it includes all of those words though the order may be debatable. Held on Saturday and Sunday, the first day was a bit of a washout with constant and heavy rain nearly al day. Sunday however, dawned bright and warm as the tractors started up against a back-drop of freshly snow covered hills.

One of the main events for the day was the vintage ploughing competition which while a lot of fun and certainly not a race (as you might imagine from this picture) ...

... some take very seriously.

The fete had stalls of all sorts including this 'music man' with his collection of old gramophones including the original cylinder type. I didn't realise that these unamplified devices could put out so much sound; presumably turning it down involved stuffing one's hat in the trumpet!

Altogether it was a great day out with heaps to see and do - I'm looking forward to next year.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Smell is a funny thing ...

... it can do things that sight and sound just can't manage - like evoke a memory. When I was a kid we used to live with a rail track at the bottom of the garden. It was towards the end of the steam age but I have memories of standing on the over-bridge at Kings Cross station full of steam locomotives, of camping in a tent in Scotland and listening to the night express whistling in the distance and taking a trip to Devon on a steam train.

Those memories didn't come back when we decided to ride the train today, nor when I saw the locomotive steaming at the ready, nor when I heard the whistle blow, or the engine puffing away. No, the memories came when I was seated in the carriage and a whiff of coal smoke drifted in through the window - that's what sparked the memories.
Happy engineers building up a head of steam prior to leaving Glenmark station.

Unhappy engineer telling stupid photographer to get off the tracks.

A428 - a 4-6-2 Pacific class locomotive built in 1909 cresting the Weka Pass.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Bird spotting

This morning's walk in the woods bagged a 'Bellbird' and a 'Silver eye' (sometimes known as a 'Wax eye'). There were also some lovely 'Fan tails' but they were moving so fast that I didn't manage to lock on for a good shot.

With the D80 I was never able to get close enough to these small birds to get a decent quality picture. Now, with the increased resolution and high ISO capabilities of the D600, I've been able to get the shots without too much difficulty (300mm lens + 1.4 tele-converter).

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Spring into Oxford

Last year it was was called the 'Spring Cruise', this year it was 'Spring into Oxford' - a good family day out including a fete on the rugby oval and, of course, the regular vintage car rally. Here's one of my favourite cars - the Austin Healey 100-6. It was for sale but I dare not ask the price.

There was the usual turnout of American iron but many old British beauties including; an Austin A55, a Vauxhall Cresta, Singers (Gazelle and Vogue), Triumph (Stag, 2000 TC and a TR3), Morris Minor (split screen and 1000 convertible), Austin Healey 100-6, Jaguar 420, Rover 90,  and Jowett  Javelin (with working traficators!). Here's the Morris 1000 convertible:

Not a cloud in the sky today; tomorrow its back to rain and possibly snow.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Out with the D600

I've been out and about with the D600 this weekend; what a lovely camera this is. My yardstick for this comment is my old D80 which I also thought was 'lovely' when I got it. But the goal posts for 'lovely' have moved a lot in the six years since the D80 was introduced - partly because technology has moved on and partly because this photographer has also moved on.

Despite only being announced a week ago, this D600 purchase was not an impulse buy; I have been looking to upgrade since the beginning of the year and knew that the D600 would be the way to go since the rumours started around June time. Sample pictures started appearing as soon as it was announced so image quality was well known, but there is nothing like using a camera with your own lenses and technique - that's what this weekend was about. I am duly impressed.

High ISO performance is incredible; I never used the D80 above ISO800 but the D600 doesn't give similar amounts of noise until ISO6400! Finally I feel comfortable allowing the camera to choose ISO automatically for general shooting. As well as improved ISO performance, the auto focus is  also a huge improvement over the D80; using the same set of lenses I find that auto-focus is fast and accurate - no more fidling around while the shot gets away from you:
I wouldn't have got this shot with the D80 - on the D600, fast focus acquisition and an ISO of 1600 gave a usable shot (actually six in burst mode). 

The other huge improvement is in Dynamic range. There are high dynamic range boosting settings but I wasn't even using these. This shot of the river bed was a single exposure at ISO 200 and everything from the sunlit snow on the mountains to the shadows under the trees was well within the dynamic range of the sensor (shot in aperture priority mode). This would have needed a three-shot bracketed exposure on the D80, on the D600 I didn't even need a graduated ND filter. Wonderful.

A different picture but a similar situation. This one uses also used the D600's continuous shooting mode which, with the highest quality RAW setting shoots up to 10 frames at a selected rate up to 5.5 frames per second. I used 3fps on this shot to make sure I got just the right composition (longest train possible without obscuring the green track light).

I can see that the D600 and I are going to become firm friends; she's certainly delivering a much higher 'keeper' rate than I was getting with the D80.

Another classic ...

Another classic car from the late 1950's early 1960's; a Sunbeam Rapier III seen this morning in Oxford. A beautiful example; pity about the mags.
 Oh, and the first uploaded picture taken with the D600 - not that you can tell at web resolution :-)

Monday, September 17, 2012

Car of my dreams

Spotted this last weekend in Oxford; an Austin Healey 3000. When I was kid this car was included in a set of cigarette cards that I collected (from other people's cigarettes of course!). I thought it was the most beautiful car I had ever seen and I wanted one when I grew up. "By the time you can afford one of those" said my Father, "it will have long been replaced by something better."

I never did afford one of these and at current prices never will but, whenever I see one, that childhood longing comes right back. Over 50 years later I still think that it is one of the most lust-worthy vehicles ever made and this was a lovely example. For more info see the Wikipedia article.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Old timer

I think this is a Ford model 46 sedan from the early 1930's. Looks in really nice condition and probably a similar vintage the the house it was driving past ...
 Update: it turns out that this is a Model 40, not a 46 as stated above. Apologies for the mistake.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Nikon D600 announced

Well, finally, the D600's status has changed from 'rumour' to 'announced' and the reviews are starting to appear.
No, those are not my hands ... but maybe soon. I don't have the $NZ price yet, but it's looking like a little north of NZ$3,000 worth of full-frame goodness with 24Mp of image to play around with. It's not a D800, but it's nowhere near the price of a D800 either and is a massive step up from my aging D80 which was introduced six years ago. Watch this space.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Spring time

Spring has arrived accompanied by the usual Nor'West gales and an abundance of daffodils.

As well as gales and new flowers, Spring also brings us 'Photokina' (the world photographic trade show) and, along with many others, I eagerly expect the announcement of the Nikon D600 full-frame DSLR which is likely to become the replacement for my aging (but lovely) D80. On top of all that there has been a new job, and learning a couple of new software programs (Adobe InDesign and PhotoLine), so this spring is really turning out to be a time for new things.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Opening soon ... Yea, right.

Seen while wandering the edge of Christchurch's "red zone".  It was quite a professional (and presumably expensive) banner, but it's positioning did leave something to be desired.

Made with Lightroom and the Photoshop alternative "PhotoLine". PhotoLine is a professional (Windows & Mac)16 bit image and vector graphics editor which beats Photoshop in many ways, and concedes little to its heavyweight competitor. Oh, and costs just 59 Euros - beat that Adobe!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Becoming a software pirate

I have always been a staunch opponent of software piracy, but sometimes you hear stories that make you question your own ethics. Such was a coffee shop encounter with a casual acquaintance I will call ‘Jim’. The coffee was a sort of confessional as Jim had just become a software pirate, quite late in life. Jim’s story went something like this:

He needed a copy of Photoshop made by Adobe. He went to their website and found that it would cost him US$699 (NZ$875). A little steep, he thought but, if that was the price, he was willing to pay. But before doing so he thought he would check pricing elsewhere and found that Amazon had it for sale at US$585 (NZ$785). Sweet, he thought, and pressed Amazon’s ‘One click’ to purchase. Unfortunately, Amazon said they could only download the software to customers in the US. Dam. Why?

Back to the Adobe Store he went, with credit card in hand to pay the full whack of US$699 but his transaction was refused – because he lived in New Zealand. Uh?  Adobe directed Jim to their New Zealand store – where he was told that a copy of CS6 would cost him AU$1,062. Now 1,062 Australian dollars was going to set Jim back about NZ$1,400 a far cry from the NZ$785 that the Amazon shop would have charged or even the NZ$875 that Adobe would have charged in the US store. WTF?

It seems that Jim had stumbled across the price gouging practices that Adobe employ outside the US. Adobe claim that it’s justified because of the cost of doing business in those countries. But Jim just wanted a download and there’s no way that would cost Adobe more in New Zealand than it does in the US.

Jim was incensed. Incensed enough to spend a few hours trawling the web, reading about Adobe’s pricing practices and coming to the conclusion that they are nothing short of unethical.  Jim was also incensed enough to find out what a ‘torrent’ was and how he could download an unlicensed copy of Photoshop. And this was someone who regularly paid voluntary donations to developers of ‘free’ software that he liked.

As I look back on that conversation, it amazes me what happened that day; Firstly, Abobe and its agents (Amazon in this case) turned away a buyer who was willing to pay US$699 dollars - the same price any American would be charged.  They did this because Jim was a New Zealander (or at least not an American). Americans are charged NZ$875, New Zealanders NZ$1,400 for exactly the same product – that’s rampant and unjustifiable discrimination. 

The second thing that happened was that an otherwise honest man became a software pirate because, in his mind, if it was good enough for Adobe to rip him off then Adobe just made themselves fair game in the rip off stakes.

It’s a sad tale on many levels, but it made me wonder how many pirates there are that would pay the price - if the price was fair? I own two fully licensed Adobe products but I’ll certainly be looking much more carefully at the pricing next time around. Perhaps you should too.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Holy Innocents

Out the back of Amberley there is a rather pretty church - an ideal location to check out the latest lens - a Nikkor 18-35mm. I bought it with a view to moving up to an FX camera later in the year so right now it's an FX lens on a DX body which has the distinct advantage of cropping out a lens' most vulnerable areas - the corners. On the D80 I'm getting excellent sharpness right across the frame - even wide open. Nice.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

You will fail ... unless

Just today, I finished reading "The War of Art" by Steven Pressfield. So, it must have been coincidence that tonight I hear the same message in a totally different format - a funny/blunt TED talk by Larry Smith about why you will fail to have a great career. Funny enough to watch even if you have already made those choices that lead to failure.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

How's your passion?

Is there something in your life that you are as passionate about as Stephen Ritz? Whether you are interested in the Bronx and disadvantaged youth or not, this is worth watching just to see the energy and passion spewing out of this man. Just watch it. Now.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Kraken comes ...

... at dusk on a lonely shore. Lumbering its slimy bulk across the pebbled beach, it heads to the tree line and the morsels that slumber beyond.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Jonathan Livingston Seagull

"Most gulls don't bother to learn more than the simplest facts of flight - how to get from shore to food and back again. For most gulls, it is not flying that matters, but eating. For this gull, though, it was not eating that mattered, but flight. More than anything else, Jonathan Livingston Seagull loved to fly."
(Richard Bach)

Monday, July 9, 2012

Busy couple of weeks

What with getting a new job (at sixty-three, a bit of a surprise!) and a new exhibition opening at the gallery, the last couple of weeks have been a bit busy. The exhibition is a combined textile (Wilson Henderson) and painting (Marilyn Rea-Menzies) show and runs until the 29th of July.
So, from tomorrow, I'll be working part-time for the Hurunui District Council at Amberley. I'll be in the "Community and Information" department responsible for document and website content (written and visual). "Cool bananas", as my wife would say.

Sunday, June 24, 2012


Cold and the short winter days have driven me inside where I can work comfortably close to the wood burner. Annette had some floral visitors, so I grabbed some low cost lighting (candles) and started to experiment:
Candles are a very weak light source so they have to be positioned close and the light drops off rapidly. It's this shallow 'depth of light' coupled with the warmth that gives candlelight its characteristic 'look'. The necessary long exposures (about 30 seconds) also tend to provide well saturated colours. 
I'm quite pleased with these first experiments and suspect the candles may come out a few more times during the winter.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Life on a snowball

After yesterday's large dump of snow, we awoke to a fine morning with the moon handing over lighting duty to the sun.

Venturing outside we found ourselves living on a giant snowball:

In a world that looked almost infra-red (at least to the camera):

I do love how snow makes even the familiar and mundane things look strangely alien.

Of course, few people seem to be working around here today as the roads are barely passable; that seems to have made the majority of people smile though there are a few 'grumpy's' around. Me, I'm a smilin'.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

First snow of winter ...

Am I going out with the camera in this? No I am not! Shot through the kitchen window :-)

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Guzzi and the cat

Guzzis have always made me smile, ever since one went flying past my office window. (The clutch cable broke, the front came up and dumped the rider before doing a riderless wheelie past the window :-) Anyway, I found this Guzzi on my morning walk today ...
... and a cat; watching me, watching you:

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Don't delete - ever

Digital photographs are easy to accumulate in vast numbers. Some photographers recommend deleting anything that isn't perfect - as soon as possible, preferably before it leaves the camera. I don't subscribe to that philosophy and keep everything I shoot unless its absolutely awful.

I have a folder structure that allows good stuff to 'bubble' to the surface while all the raw material (usually RAW material) sits in a series of basement folders called 'Originals'. When I need to try out some new software or attempt a new processing approach I dig into my 'Originals' folders to find something to practice on. Case in point is the picture below - what I wanted to try didn't work out but, in the process, I discovered the original reason I took the shot - the light - buried beneath a rather dull and uninteresting set of RAW files.

"Evening light - Canterbury High Country" - camera Nikon D80, 28mm, ISO100, 1/15sec, f11 (9 frames)

So, tonight I feel vindicated and confirmed in my old hoarder ways :-)

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Are you in the haystack?

Yesterday I read a plaintive G+ post by +Vivienne Gucwa, lamenting how difficult it was to monetize her photography on line. Her words resonated with me and got me thinking about my own on-line experience and the conclusion I had come to, that the internet was not the best place for a photographer to sell work. (It might be one way for a photographer to sell themselves, but that is a different thing.)

It’s basically very simple – photographers make pictures and pictures are brought by customers. Where are the customers; are they on-line looking for work to buy? Generally, no they are not. Customers are out buying pictures in shops and galleries (I’m not talking about commercial buyers of stock photos here). My own experience is that potential customers may well want to look through your portfolio on line but, unless they have had some prior physical contact with your work they are unlikely to buy there. Pictures are real tangible things, physical size matters (small or large), presentation matters, how it looks in your hand or hung on a wall matters – these things are hard to judge on a computer screen. Some of my best selling pieces, don’t even look like my best work when displayed on a computer. Lastly, even I wouldn’t buy a picture on line without seeing it physically, so why would I expect anyone else to?

I am not a Luddite. My own internet presence includes a personal website, a blog and profiles at redbubble, 500px, Facebook and G+. I invite people to look at my work online but I don't try to sell to them there. My personal portfolio site has this on the front page, “This site is for looking; not buying. Should you have an overwhelming desire to purchase an image, please visit my portfolio at ...

Nearly all my work is sold through a small rural gallery. Maybe I will expand my outlets further down the track but I have been selling cards and framed pictures every month this year from a location that has less than 500 physical visitors per week and displays work by a large number of artists. In the same period I have had one internet sale - because one of my existing ‘fans’ had seen a picture they liked on my Facebook page.

Here's another strange thing; my pictures can be brought on-line as greeting cards for about $2.50 each. I have sold absolutely none through this method. Instead, I buy them myself on-line and sell them through the gallery at $7.00 each. On average I have 2-3 card sales a week; not enough to pay the bills, but it's money for little effort - I just have to keep the shelves stocked - and I am learning what people like and what they don't.

The takeaway for me is that the internet is a great place to showcase what you can do and it’s the best way to get your portfolio ‘out there’ and available to any eyeballs that may want to see it. It’s a great place to share and discuss your work with other photographers; it’s also a great place to spend the time you should be using to make pictures! BUT it’s not a great place to meet real customers and sell your pictures – for that, the old fashioned ways are significantly more successful. As I heard a photographer say once, "Ah, redbubble (or any other large art web site) another haystack to hide your needle in."

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Focus stacking

This last week I have been learning playing around with 'focus stacking'. One of the difficulties when taking closeup or macro photos is the incredibly shallow depth of field; sometimes you may only have a millimetre of the subject in focus at a time -front, sharp; rear blurry. The answer is to take a number of photos focussed on different parts of the subject and then merge them altogether to get one sharp photo.

This is easier said than done. Unlike merging photos for exposure, every time you refocus the shape of the subject changes slightly, so each picture needs to be aligned not only for x and y coordinates but also for depth by adjusting magnification. All tricky stuff for software but the free program "Combine ZP" available from: does the job admirably (though it does take some learning). Here is a dandelion composited from 5 differently focused frames in 'CombineZP':
and this is a 100% crop from right of centre out towards the right edge. Note the very fine detail that 'CombineZP' has been able to maintain:

Although the differently focussed frames can be achieved by adjusting focus on the lens, it is much easier with subjects this size to use a focusing rail which allows sub-mm adjustments. All five frames were shot at ISO 100, with a 70-300 Tamron lens at 185mm and f11 for 0.7 seconds.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Photoshop - $25 - almost

I have been a user of Photoshop Elements since v8 and Photoshop Lightroom since v3; together they make an awesome library, development and post processing combo for photographers. Despite having flirted with CS6 during the beta stage, I always baulked at the exorbitant price premium that Photoshop commanded (see "Photoshop CS6 Beta - first thoughts" and "Photoshop CS6 - second thoughts"). But now I have nearly all the functionality of Photoshop for a mere NZ$25 thanks to two small programs - "TPG Elemental" and "Elements+".

TPG Elemental is a Lightroom plugin which links Lightroom to Elements in a very similar way to Lightroom's  built in linking with the full Photoshop CSx application. It allows the user to send images from Lightrrom to Elements for editing, stacking or merging and a number of other functions. It is simple and works as advertised. It is 'donation ware' so send the author whatever you think is appropriate and he will send you a license key to unlock the full functionality of TPG Elemental.

Elements+ is a Photoshop Elements plugin. Photoshop Elements is a stripped down version of the full Photoshop product, only it seems that most of the full product's functionality is still lurking under the hood of Elements. Adobe blocked access through the Elements interface but did not remove the functionality. Elements+ provides it's own interface to the hidden functionality so now, for example, I have access to the color channel functions, can align layers, merge and blend layers and access dozens of other functions previously reserved for the users of the full Photoshop. Elements+ cost NZ$15.

Now, this combination is not perfect and some may find the interface to Elements+ 'odd' - I know I did at first. Not everything in Photoshop is there either but, if Elements on its own is 80% of Photoshop, then these two little apps take that percentage up to about 95% - now that IS worth NZ$25! Which makes paying another NZ$930 for the last 5% even less likely than it used to be.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Ben Heine

I came across Ben Heine's work through a Facebook post and a visit to his 500px page. His "Pencil vs Camera" series are really interesting:
But Ben works in quite a few different styles each of which he seems to have mastered in a amazing way. These are a couple of his "Digital Circlism" portraits:

and here is a video of the making of "Elvis":