Monday, December 30, 2013

Between times

Well here we are; in that period between Christmas and New Year and finally Adobe has made it possible for me to acquire Photoshop with a clear conscience. Rather than shelling out NZ$1,300 for a CS6 license which was quite ridiculous (on various levels), Adobe's Photography Program allows photographers to have the use of both Lightroom and Photoshop for a little under NZ$12 per month - now that's what I call reasonable, so I will be starting out the New Year with the tool I wanted but couldn't previously justify buying. To celebrate, here is "Akaroa by night" from last month's trip to New Zealand's 'French Riviera':

Happy New Year to everyone.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Oxford Arts Fair

Last Saturday was the opening of the inaugural Oxford Arts Fair. It runs until 22 December with various artists doing demonstrations each weekend. Fantastic turnout on the Saturday for the opening with a good time seemingly had by all. This short video gives a flavour of the event:

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Lost Past

Continuing my explorations with Proshow Producer, I reprocessed some pictures of the Provincial Council buildings that I took back in 2009 for the Christchurch City Council's web project. It was interesting revisiting processing from four years ago - my tastes, techniques and tools have all changed in that time and I made much better use of the Nikon D80 RAW files than I did originally. The resulting video is a sort of requiem to some beautiful buildings that are sadly now badly damaged or destroyed.

Friday, November 8, 2013

An updated HD video from that included in the original post.

A selection of pictures from a weekend in Akaroa including a visit to the Giant's House (6min video).

Monday, November 4, 2013

Akaroa rays

Just back from a long weekend in stunning Akaroa with my beautiful wife. Or was that a beautiful weekend with my stunning wife? Darned if I know. Anyway the weather was great and as we sat in our room on Sunday night I saw the setting sun just appearing under the clouds.
The rays only lingered for a few minutes but fortunately we were only about 100m from the quay so a quick sprint to the foreshore got me there for a few quickly composed frames. A nice ending to a nice weekend.

Monday, September 23, 2013


 So, you can tell I love fractal art. Well, this post is for those who want to know what fractal art is about and especially for my friends at the Holy Disorder of Dancing Monks!
Love fractals
Fractal art is mathematical art. Art formed by the interaction of multiple mathematical formula to plot points in three dimensional (3D) space. A fractal artist manipulates the formula and their properties to produce various abstract models. These 3D models are then rendered by a computer to form a two dimensional picture which can be viewed on a computer screen or printed on paper.

If that sounds complicated, it is. Fractal art could not exist in its present form without a computer to do the heavy lifting. My computer has just rendered a fractal I designed; it made 5,942,263 calculations per second and took 4 hours and 42 mins to complete. That's over 100 billion calculations for a single fractal image - a feat hardly possible without a computer.

Though fractals are mathematical, fractal artists today do not need to be mathematicians (I certainly am not!) As well as the mind-bending volume of calculations, computers help the artist by providing a visual environment in which mathematical formula can be represented by graphical objects. The artist positions and sizes the objects in relation to one another and modifies their properties, while the approximate results are displayed on the computer screen.

Despite such technical help, the journey to a finished fractal image is anything but straightforward. Fractal pictures can rarely be previsualised, except in the broadest of terms; the artist launches into the fractal void on a voyage of discovery. It can be a frustrating voyage - for some time nothing usable is revealed then, when finally something interesting does form in front of the artist, the task is to coax that embryonic image towards something worthy of being called a fractal image. Often it never makes it and the artist must start over.
In the beginning
Even with these difficulties, there is something about fractal images which draws the artist onward. A good fractal can be breathtakingly beautiful and the combination of creativity, discovery, and craft involved in producing fractals, quite addictive. But fractals also seem to have another quality - the ability to connect with something that lies just outside our normal comprehension - visual analogies that communicate at a metaphysical level.

If you want to get started in fractal art a good place to begin is with a free program (Windows only) called Apophysis and tutorials which can be found at Deviant Art.

Saturday, September 21, 2013


In a few weeks this view will be obscured by spring's new growth and an abundance of leaves. It caught my eye yesterday for the bold simplicity of the shapes set against a stormy sky. It was the work of a moment with the camera, but processing it to capture the feeling of that moment took several hours and a few aborted attempts. Why are the simple pictures the hardest?

On a related note, I have just read through "Eyes of the Heart - Photography as a Christian contemplative Practice" by Christine Valters Paintner. Her book deserves more than a quick read through (and I will give it much more than that) but she encourages a deeper 'seeing' than a photographer (me) often gives the subject; more of a 'slow gazing' designed to see beyond the mere physical form and expose something deeper. That's a huge challenge - using a device (a camera) designed to capture light to reveal something more than an image. Hmm ... work to do there me thinks.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Android storm

Just before the storm struck last night, ripping off our gates and hot water expansion pipe, we experienced a technology storm of a different sort. It started when my two week old Android tablet seemed to be connected to WiFi but was not connecting to the Internet. A fifteen hour power outage interrupted diagnosis but, when power returned today, both my phone and Annette's Android phone were both showing the same symptoms - connected to WiFi but no Internet access. All other devices (PCs, iPads, Kindle seemed unaffected).

Google searches uncovered an Android bug where IP addresses allocated via DHCP were not being properly recorded in the Android device. Each affected Android device shows it's IP as "Unknown" (Settings/About device/Status).

Although repeated connecting and disconnecting from the network can restore a device to working order, this is hit and miss at best, and frustratingly annoying at worst. The actual answer is to reserve IP addresses on the DHCP server for use by Android devices and to set each Android device using one of these "static" IPs rather than DHCP. Everything else in the network can continue using DHCP but the Android devices each get their own dedicated IP. It's a bit of a pain to set up but once it is done everything works more smoothly and devices connect more quickly.

Hope that helps someone out there with a misbehaving Android.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Back in The Square again

After nearly three years, it's good to be able to walk through our city centre again. Sure it's damaged and it's disorientating not having all the familiar buildings in their place, but I like what I am seeing - Christchurch people are reclaiming their broken city. People are creating things, wonderful things, that could not have found a place in the more regulated pre-quake Christchurch. Would anyone have been allowed to erect a whare in the square prior to 2010?

Would impromptu art spaces, like this photo exhibition, have found a place on the more crowded city streets?
There is something really cool going on in Christchurch post quake, and I'm not sure that I want to see the rebuild snuff it out once the developers and bureaucrats get their act together. We need an ongoing supply of empty space where creative people can make cool things for Cantabrians to delight in and smile at.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Window pain

Three years on from the start of the earthquakes, and this damaged yet unrepaired building seems to reflect our city:

Monday, September 2, 2013

Digital opalotype

The opalotype was an early photographic technique where images were made on a 'milky' or 'opal' glass plate. Very often, after development, the plates were hand painted to make a photograph which had a quality similar to that of a water colour painting. I started experimenting with a digital form of opalotype in 2011 and have refined the process using a variety of tools including Lightroom, Photoshop (or substitute) and Topaz filters. This 'street' shot from Sunday's Farmers Market is an example of what the process can produce.
The steps involved are not difficult but can be time consuming:
  1. Develop your image in Lightroom to create a good quality, natural, colour image
  2. Take the image into PhotoShop or equivalent (layer 1)
  3. Create a duplicate layer and make it into a black and white image (layer 2). I usually use Topaz Black and White Effects.
  4. Duplicate layer 1 again and move it to the top of the stack (layer 3)
  5. Take layer 3 and reduce it to splashes of colour only (no outlines). I do this in Topaz Simplify, using a variation of the Buz Sim preset.
  6. Change the blending mode of layer 3 to 'color' and reduce the opacity to taste (30%is a good stating point)
  7. Duplicate layer 1 again and move it to the top of the stack (layer 4)
  8. Take layer 4 and reduce it to outlines on a white background (no colour). I also do this in Topaz Simplify using the same Buz Sim preset, but set to generate black outlines only.
  9. Remove unwanted outlines (usually in the background and sky) by painting them out with white on layer 4 (try to outline only the main subjects)
  10. Change the blending mode of layer 4 to 'Linear Burn" and reduce the opacity to taste (30%-50% is usually good). Then examine it critically and paint out any outlines which don't look natural (the edges of shadows are an example)
  11. Flatten the image and return it to Lightroom
  12. In Lightroom make any final adjustments to colour and tone and then create a radial gradient (LR5) to fill the image (Ctrl+double click) then lighten and reduce contrast, saturation, clarity and sharpness at the outer edge of the gradient.
  13. Finally create a narrow white border around the image with feathered edges - this should blend with the lightening you did in step 12 to produce the milky white edges and corners of the final image.
And that, is that. It's not a recipe, as such, because every picture is different but, following this approach and using your own judgement, will give you some very interesting results that look as though they fall somewhere between a photograph and a water colour painting. As you practice on different pictures you will soon get to know what works and what doesn't and adjust settings as appropriate. Good luck and have fun with digital opalotypes.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Nikon D600 - a year on

Well, perhaps a few days short of a year, but it was this month a year ago that I acquired the D600. I remember, on one of the first outings being blown away by the dynamic range of this camera: with my old D80 I had become quite used to blending three bracketed shots to capture a high dynamic range scene. In the last year, I cannot remember ever having to blend shots with the D600 - I shot bracketed many times (an old habit) but never used more than one shot in final production. Today's shot of the Oxford Farmers Market is a case in point - one exposure (actually a four-shot stitched panorama) and everything from the distant clouds to the shadows under the market stools is well exposed (shot RAW and developed in Lightroom).

So, a year on and I'm still loving the D600 - can't blame the tools any more :-)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Artisan State

Today I received my first book order from Artisan State ( Including shipping the book cost NZ$17.50. For that I got a 7"x5", 20 page book with thick board pages printed on a satin finished paper. The quality is phenomenal and far exceeds a similar priced offering from Blurb. Well worth checking them out if you want to get some photos printed. Or, in my case, some fractal images.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

PS Touch

The Galaxy Note came pre-loaded with Adobe's PhotoShop Touch. Adobe has done a fantastic job of shoe-horning what is effectively PhotoShop Elements into a tablet format. Of course, it's not PhotoShop Elements but, feature for feature, it's pretty close, so there is a lot that a user can do with it on the tablet, even down to compositing.

But, and its a big BUT, compared with a laptop or desktop, editing pictures with PhotoShop Touch is like trying to thread a needle while wearing boxing gloves - possible but not recommended. Unless, that is, you also take the pictures with the tablet and need to edit them before uploading to your favourite social media site. In that situation PhotoShop Touch does make some sense, but wether it makes sense for someone who uses a 'real' camera, is another matter entirely.

Still, and despite my reservations, PhotoShop Touch is a masterpiece of ingenuity, like getting a ship into a bottle, and I shall keep it around - just in case.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The ultimate tablet?

We have become a family of tablet users.The girls each have iPads, while I am on my fourth Android tablet and my second Samsung. This last gem and the subject of this post, is the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1.

A lot has been written about the Note, so I won't repeat all that others have said, but simply focus on what makes this tablet such a stand-out. At the end of the day, it comes down to the incorporation of a Wacom tablet and pen - what Samsung call the 'S Pen'. Coupled with the Note's large screen the pen brings a huge increase in precision over the usual capacitive screen and pudgy finger, though you can still go the pudgy route if you wish.

Some have said that the pen is suitable for artists but of little practical use to the normal user. But this ignores the best input method yet available on a tablet - hand writing recognition. This complete post was written on the Note using hand writing. Samsung have really worked wonders with the hand writing recognition; after a little tuition it works almost flawlessly through a text input area which replaces the more usual on-screen keyboard.

An early criticism of the first Notes was that the split Screen function only allowed the pairing of a limited subset of applications. With the Jelly Bean release, that has been addressed and over twenty applications can now be paired for multitasking.

In summary, the latest Note 10.1 has, in my opinion, become the premier work-horse of the current tablet world - although that accolade does come at a higher price than most tablets.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Ka 942 crossing the Kowai River

I set out today to get a picture of a steam train set against the snow-covered Southern Alps. Unfortunately the weather has been so good the last few days that pretty much all of the snow has melted. There will be a couple more opportunities next month should the weather turn bad again. Today, however, I had to settle for a picture of the train crossing the Kowai River bridge pulled by Ka 942.

Ka 942, a 4-8-4, was built in 1940 as a coal burner but was converted to oil in 1948. It can carry 5,000 gallons of water and 1,600 gallons of fuel oil.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Lightroom 5

I'm loving Lightroom 5. Each new release adds new features that increase Lightroom's ability as a stand alone product. This time around we got a properly functional healing brush which, for smaller items, saves a trip to a separate editor. But perhaps the best addition is the new radial filter. The radial filter adds all the controls of the gradient filer but in a circular or elliptical shape - this is so flexible and substitutes for the sluggardly Adjustment Brush in many situations.

The Adjustment Brush aside, there have been all round performance improvements in LR5 which are very welcome. The Adjustment Brush however, is still capable of bringing a quad core processor to its knees. Here's a tip - if you have to make extensive use of the adjustment brush then, once you have finished, export the picture to a TIF file and reimport it to Lightroom, then you can carry on working on the TIF file without all the brush history steps bogging the system down.

This picture uses the new Radial filter to darken everything except the flower and underside of the stem. All processing done in Lightroom 5:

Thursday, July 18, 2013

No more clouds

For the last month I have been investigating cloud backup solutions. For a few years I have used Carbonite to create an off-site backup of critical business files. But what about my image files, where was their off-site protection? So I went looking for a solution.

Carbonite was not a contender; I was already paying US$60 a year for unlimited data, but that plan wouldn't backup data on an external hard drive (where my image library sits). To get that facility would cost US$100 a year and was still limited to one machine; what about my laptop? I looked for other cloud solutions some of which appeared to be free (but weren't if you wanted the best speed and service - go read the reviews) and others like Carbonite which were more robust but costly. But, in addition to cost, there was the issue of speed; to upload 1TB of data over DSL was going to take many days. Though, admittedly, once it was there, updates would be much quicker.

Finally I abandoned the idea of cloud storage and decided on a local solution, purchasing two 2TB Seagate external drives at a total cost of US$200. Each drive has more than enough capacity to backup both my workstation and laptop data and still be under 50% capacity. So now I backup daily to disk1 and then at the end of the week disk2 replaces disk1 and disk1 is taken off-site for storage. Next week disk1 and disc2 swap places again. So I always have a local backup that is no more than 1 day old and an off-site backup that is no more than a week old. The two drives are warranted for 3 years so, assuming that is all they will last for, I have saved US$400 over the comparable Carbonite costs for two PCs for three years.

With the costs of storage continuing to fall, cloud storage vendors are going to need to sharpen their act a lot more if they want to remain competitive. And that includes those who claim that their service is 'free'.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

It's that fractal time of year

It's that time of year when out-door photography sometimes has to take a back seat. With all the rain, snow and bitterly cold temperatures, staying indoors close to the fire seems like the sensible thing to do. Creating fractal images is, to my way of thinking, a nice compliment to photography; the technical skills for creating the pictures are totally different, but the compositional components are very similar - use of light and dark tones, framing, leading lines and so forth. Creating a fractal image also shares some of the same software tools as used in photography - Lightroom, Photoshop,Topaz; so there are lots of synergies.

I've called this one, "In the beginning" and it's designed to be a 600mm x 300mm printed image with lots of fine detail (which, unfortunately, won't show up at web size).

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Lady with whip

Not sure how this will work out but I'm experimenting with this photo by uploading at HD (1080px high). "Lady with whip" was captured at the Oxford A&P show in March. I posted a B&W version on G+ but this is the original colour. Usually I tend to think that a particular photo should be either colour or black and white as dictated by the subject matter and the capture but, in this case, I really can't decide between the two:
D600 1/320 sec @ f5.6 and ISO 200. 210mm on a Nikkor 28-300. Processed in Lightroom and PhotoLine using Topaz filters.

More pictures here!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Shovels and clarity

This weekend I've been testing a new Topaz filter, "Clarity". It's not yet released (perhaps 2-4 weeks away) but it looks very promising and a worthy addition to the Topaz toolbox. I used it on this picture (in addition to other filters) to restore what was a rather flat 6,400 ISO RAW file, to what I remembered seeing:
Nikon D600, 1/5 sec (hand-held) @ f11 and ISO 6,400 28-300 Nikkor lens @ 62mm. Processed in Lightroom and Photoline using a variety of Topaz filters.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Autumn leaves

Annette brought home these beautiful autumn leaves from the hospital where her Mother is recuperating after a heart operation. So, under the camera they went.

Nikon D600, 6 seconds, f22. ISO 100. 300mm on a Nikkor 28-300 - natural light.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Primary colours

I usually go for more muted colours, or even black and white, but this one was crying out for its colours to remain intact:

It was a bright day and as I was insisting on a slow-ish shutter speed, the camera chose f32! - oh the dust spots!
Nikon D600, 1/15sec @ f32 and ISO 100. 70mm on a Nikkor 28-300 lens.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Show the show jumper

A couple of posts ago I included the 'straight out of Lightroom' version of this picture (as I usually do on this blog). However, after blogging, the better pictures then go into my 'to be processed' folder from where they are given a fresh and more careful development in Lightroom and a fairly intensive going over with other software tools (in this case Photoline, Topaz and OnOne). The best of these pictures then go on (hopefully) to be sold. This is one of those pictures.

A superficial glance at the before and after versions may possibly show only minor changes, but print them big and the improvements in clarity, detail and depth are quite amazing. I just wish I could show that at web sizes but you'll just have to take my word for it :-)
D600, 1/1250 sec, f5.6, 116mm on a Nikon 28-300 lens.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Shear skill

Watching the shearers at work is fascinating; a real display of speed, strength and skill. The D600 did a fantastic job under challenging lighting conditions, Lightroom brought out the shadow detail and Topaz dealt with the introduced noise (I keep trying other tools but these are the ones I come back to).  1/2500 sec @ f5.6 and 300mm on a Nikon 28-300 lens. Good job everyone; you too sheep.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Oxford A&P Show

It was good to get out with the camera again after an enforced break for a few weeks. The Oxford A&P show was blessed with a long weekend and fine weather and was 'buzzin' this year. Here are a few of the highlights:

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Buskers Festival

The Buskers Festival came around again and I finally managed to get along on a sunny, if somewhat windy, day. The organisation this year, centred in North Hagley park, was excellent though I have to say that for a sunny Saturday too many of the venues were lying idle. Nevertheless, the acts that were on display were entertaining large crowds.

"Bazza" the bronze rugby player was statuesque, until the girls came along, when he would suddenly become very vocal.

Juggling atop a pole in a high wind was not the easiest act in town:

Bus stop:

Some could hardly watch; while others did ...

Rockin it (that's a badminton racquet around his waist!) :

Spinning contortionist:

L&P famous in New Zealand:

Boy in a ball:

Events like these are good place to do a bit of 'street photography' without feeling intrusive; everyone is in a good mood and there are plenty of cameras about, so people don't tend to view photographers with suspicion. Go, for it; find a crowd-filled event and have fun with your camera :-)

Friday, January 4, 2013

The making of engine 428

Google+ seemed to like engine 428 so much that I even got a request to write a 'how-to' explaining how the picture was produced. The 'how-to' (actually a 'what-to-do'!) can be found here: in PDF format.
Thank you to those who +1'd the original picture and I hope that you find the 'what-to-do' useful.