Friday, 30 November 2012


I am something of a traditionalist, I like to have a camera to take photographs with, a phone to make phone calls with and an iPod to listen to music with - ok, not such a traditionalist that I cart a gramophone around with me wherever I go but you get what I mean; the right tool for the job. Why on earth would I want to take photographs with a phone when I have one or two excellent devices purpose made for that job? Then there's those pointless 'ready meal' type processing packages like Instagram - what is the point of using exactly the same effects as anyone else?

Rant over - glad I got that off my chest.

Except, I've modified my opinion somewhat.

I'm sure you knew that was coming (would have been a very short post otherwise) but I'm quite vexed by it to tell the truth; there is something gratifying about dogmatic certainty. Don't get me wrong, I've no intention of disposing of my cameras but I have realised that you can have some fun through the combination of a phone camera and Instagram and you can still put your own stamp on the final result. I'm even quite pleased with a handful of the images I've made this way. Sometimes it's hard to be a grumpy conservative (with a small 'c').

Friday, 23 November 2012

Stopping TIme

I had a couple of specific photographic aims on my recent visit to Scotland; one was to have a go at stitched panoramas (a topic of a previous post) and the other was to use my Lee Big Stopper filter. For anyone wondering what on earth that is, in simple terms, it is a filter which enables you to make really long exposures. For anyone wondering why on earth you would want to do such a thing, consider the effect of blurring anything that is moving, water for instance.

Clearly then, the ideal situation to use this filter would be one in which there was plenty of movement to affect. Unfortunately, this was not such an occasion. The picture above was made shortly before sunrise on a very still morning when the only movement was in the clouds and even they were only moving very slowly.

This, however, was a 16 minute exposure. Really! 16 minutes! Now, a word of warning if you plan to try this yourself - if using a digital camera with a long exposure noise reduction facility, do turn it off beforehand. I didn't and that meant that, following the 16 minute exposure, the camera spent another 16 minutes processing the file. That is an awfully long time to be standing around for a single exposure and, worse still, there was nothing I could do while I watched the sky turn a subtle shade of pink.

This was it then - my only attempt with the filter so far and not the most dramatic effect. It has, though, resulted in quite a pleasing image which seemed to lend itself to black and white.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Featured Photograph for November 2012

This is to be the first of a regular series of posts featuring one of my photographs, giving some sort of insight into how or why it was made. I was tempted to call this 'Phil's (or Fell's) Featured Photograph' but felt that was perhaps too much alliteration for one blog. I hope you enjoy it.

This month's image was made in November last year, shortly after the sun had risen. The location is Llyn Crafnant in Snowdonia. I had been asked to do a talk about landscape photography for the local photographic society (Frodsham & District Photographic Society) and decided that it would be interesting to base it around a single day; the planning, preparation, execution and even the trials and tribulations involved. The day was obviously chosen with reasonable expectations of decent climactic conditions (part of the planning) so didn't represent a huge risk but the location was one I had not visited previously - it looked promising on the map. As is usual, I planned to get there around 30 minutes before sunrise and worked backwards from that time to calculate how early I needed to leave home - in this case, around 5am. In truth, I had been hoping for some light cloud cover but the day dawned clear and cold, a light frost covering the ground - just as good. The far end of the lake was shrouded in mist which, as it was burnt off by the sun, created a wonderful glow separating the land from it's almost perfect reflection. I spent a magical few hours at Llyn Crafnant that morning, in perfect peace with not another soul around but reluctantly dragged myself away in order to expand the scope of my planned talk. As it happens, heavy cloud interceded around midday and the increasingly gloomy light in the afternoon offered little in the way of photographic inspiration - but it didn't really matter; the morning had surpassed my expectations, I had some images which looked promising and all the material I needed for my talk.

Prints are available from my website:

Friday, 2 November 2012

Stitched Up

It is hard to deny that I came late to the digital age; for a long time clinging on like a dinosaur to my medium format camera and Velvia. And so, while I still believe in trying to create my image 'in camera' as far as possible, I am beginning to come round to the idea that tools like Lightroom and Photoshop can be used to improve an image without altering the essential truth. One such example of this is the creation of panoramic images from a number of individual pictures stitched together and this was something I decided to try out in earnest whilst in Scotland recently.

6 images, 105 mm, portrait format

This picture of Glen Finglas dam was one of my first attempts and illustrates an important early lesson. One of the things that attracted me to this scene was the wonderful curving road which draws you in and helps create an impression of depth. Unfortunately, I composed the individual images to tightly - fine on their own but, when stitched together, the necessary crop all but eliminated the road. Such an important part of the composition, I had to resort to cloning a large area of foreground grass in order to retain more of the road. It's ok but, sadly, not what I had hoped for.

6 images, 58mm, portrait format

For the second picture shows Loch Achray shortly after sunrise and is the second of two attempts. At first, I used aperture priority feeling that it would allow me to operate more quickly but I realised that the changing exposure might make stitching seamlessly more difficult. The second attempt, therefore, was made using manual exposure ensuring a balanced exposure.

5 images, 70mm, portrait format

The final scene is also of Loch Achray, again just after sunrise but on a very different day. It is, I think the most successful of the three but might have benefited from a slightly wider angle to allow a bit more room.

I used the D800 for all three of these pictures which makes for some huge files (each one created a TIFF file in excess of 1Gb). Consequently, you need to be very patient - the processing is very memory intensive. What does help, is to make as many adjustments on the individual images before stitching and this is where Lightroom is a boon since you can make the adjustments to one and then sync the changes made to all of the others.

In addition to creating a wider view than normally possible, you avoid the distortion from an extreme wide angle lens and end up with an incredibly detailed and very big file which, in theory, should enable you to produce a really big print. The only problem I have now is paying for that big print and getting it mounted - oh, and the inevitable new disk to house all the huge files.