On the way to Appin today I had an idea for a new photography challenge. Essentially I select three random words each week (using an online random word generator) and then have to take one shot inspired by each word and post them at the end of the week. So this will be the first week and the three words are:
I am not sure what this will lead to but you never know. Hopefully it will make me try some new ideas and might lead to something exciting and worthwhile. Watch this spcae next Sunday and feel free to join in if you want to.
Today we had a quick trip to Appin for lunch to meet my wife's brother and his wife. The weather was generally very changeable but on the whole not great, although there were some lovely clear patches of sunshine and blue sky between the showers. This shot was taken from above Castle Stalker looking west towards Mull. As a result of the bright sunshine to the south-west I tried using my circular ND Grad filter to darken the sky a bit, which appeared to work well, but when I got back home and looked at the photos on the computer there was a real magenta hue in the top. I have tried to remove this by altering the colour temperature and tint (increasing the blue/green) and that has done a reasonable job. I'm not hugely impressed by any of the shots I took from this location to be honest but it is a good view.
I tried zooming in a bot closer on the castle and opted for the portrait orientation and concverted the next image to black & white to try and draw out the drama in the sky, with a little success. This conversion to B&W also meant that the magenta hue was removed and the sky works well I think.
After lunch we popped long to Barcaldine and went for a short walk up Gleann Dubh along the Abhainn Teithill. There are some nice waterfalls providing an opportunity for some interetsing shots. Unfortuantely a lot of the route is fenced off so it is difficult to get into good positions to capture the depth and the narrow gorge. However, lower down I got this shot, looking directly into the sun which resulted in this amzing bokeh effect with the small aperture. There were also some strange striation lines showing up in the darker areas, not sure if that is a scratched filter or what but I managed to darken these down so they are not too obvious.
Sometimes it is not really necessary to travel very far to get good locations and shots. This morning the light was pretty decent so I took the dogs out for a walk down to our local beach at Balmacara Bay with my relatively portable micro 4/3 camera and lenses instead of my usual Canon full frame kit. I have taken this shot several times over the years but today the contrasty light with bright blue sky and fluffy white and grey clouds, lovely shadows and light patches on the hills looked better than usual. This shot was fine in colour but I felt the darker areas looked a bit over-saturated and I much prefer the tones and textures in black & white.
The next shot was taken just along the road looking back up the drive and works well in colour and black & white. The colours in the trees against the blue sky work really nicely but there is something about the drama in the clouds in black & white whick I like, although the house and boat do tend to disappear a bit.
The next shot was taken at the beach. It is inspired by Ansel Adams' famous shot of ripples on a beach but I used my fixed f/8.0 pancake 8mm lenscap lens (16mm full frame equivalent) to get a really wide perspective. This lens, when held in portrait orientation does produce this curved horizon effect, but I like it none-the-less.
The final image is of the Balmacara Mains Guest House where my daughters work. The buildings look wonderfully secluded in the woods, which are beginning to turn into their autumn colours. This one was taken using my Olympus M 40-150mm f/4.0-5.6 R lens at 108mm (216 mm full frame equivalent) and it has fore-shortened the view rather nicely.
This afternoon, by way of a little studio lighting and portraiture practice I set up the guest room with my lights and prevailed upon my youngest to sit for me. I wanted to focus in close on the eyes as opposed to taking normal full-head portraits. The shot above is the best of the lot I think. This was taken with my Sigma 105mm prime lens using a LED macro ring flash, a fill light and a backlight. I was in close for this shot so despite using f/8 there is still a very shallow depth of field. This effectively isolates the eye and lashes from the rest of her face.
The second shot was taken using the same set up but I replaced the ring flash with my Speedlight and a diffuser. I was not in quite so close this time so opted for a wider aperture to retain the shallow depth of field.
Finally I have selected a straight portrait. Maybe not the best shot but I like it as I think it has caught Ciara just being herself and not thinking too much about the camera. I should probably have increased the ISO to get a faster shutterspeed but it worked reasonably well. I opened up the aperture as far as it would go to try to retain the shallow depth of field and separate Ciara from the backdrop.
I am still struggling to work out the settings on my various flashes and how to get them to work properly with the camera, but hopefully the HNC course I am doing will help with this. At the moment I am still resorting to trial and error.
When I was out for a walk with the dogs round the woods today I spotted a tiny toadstool growing on an old pine tree and immediately thought I needed to return with the camera kit to get some macro shots of it, before it passed its best. On returning I discoved that there were a few others in more accessible positions so I had a choice of subjects to choose between. This first shot was illuminated from the left by a bit of soft, diffused fill flash as the area was in deep shade from the surrounding trees. I opted for the largest aperture of the lens to really focus in on the toadstool and blur out as much of the surrounding area as possible. The next shot is the same toadstool taken using a longer exposure with no flash and a smaller aperture. I have not cropped this one so you can see its context a bit better.
The first one I saw was just above head height on the stem of the old pine tree and really difficult to get anywhere near with the macro lens on a tripod. I resorted to using the tripod at its full extension as a monopod and using Live View swayed the camera in and out of focus on the toadstool trying to get a sharp image. This was actually the first shot I took and it was the sharpest, that is not normally the way it works. I did use the fill flash on this one, slightly off to the right this time.
The final subject was the largest, about twice the size of the first one, and much more accessible so I used the tripod, fill flash again and a variety of shutter speeds and apertures to try and get the sharpest result with a nice soft background. Given this one's size I opted for a smaller aperture and a bit more direct flash but the lower section of the stem was still way out of focus and added nothing to the shot so I like it better cropped square witht he focus on the head.
Another grey damp day so after doing my homework for the HNC in Photography and ordering some canvas prints for the Lochalsh Art Fair I decided to try out some more options with macro. This time I dodged the midges by bringing some things indoors. So in the kitchen I set up a background of ferns, some green, some turning russet. I decided on some scabious flowers collected from just outside the house and set it up in front of the ferns, held in place by a Whimberley Plamp. I used Live View to try and get the focus right and various aperture, shutterspeed and ISO combinations, plus the use of some fill-flash, but this one, using only natural light from the window plus a white reflector and a long exposure worked best. Despite usng a fairly small aperture the macro lens still produced a nice Bokeh effect in the background, but this allowed me to get more of the flower head in focus.
Throughout this exercise I found focusing very challenging as the whole subject wobbled about when I adjusted the focus, being attached to the same tripd as the camera. I need to think about better ways of reducing that movement if I am to sort out the focusing challenge properly.
The next shot is of another flower head on the same plant but which has not opened yet, so it was a bit smaller. In this case I used some fill flash from below and to the right as the bottom right side of the flower was very shaded, the window being off to the left. This, and the wider aperture allowed for a slightly faster shutterspeed and the smaller flower head meant that most of it was still relatively sharp. If you look carefully you can see a very small mite or spider in the bottom right of the flower head (slightly blurred as it was moving a bit). I tried lots of options but I can't quite master the flash proeprly so I guess that needs to be my next focus for practice and experimentation, and perhaps a bit of reading.
I also had another go at the acorn from outside. The following shot is the best I managed and with the use of fill flash I think the colour balance is a bit more subtle. For this one I simply mounted my Canon Speedlight 420 on top of the camera, with a diffuser to soften the flash and angled slightly upwards, bouncing off the ceiling in effect.
For the last shot I focused on the oak buds instead of the acorn. This time I deflected the flash more so a slightly longer shutterspeed was required. The depth of field is very shallow in this one, probably as a result of me bringing the camera in much closer to the subject.
I am not sure why, maybe because the weather has been a bit poor lately, but I have been getting right into marco photography. I have been busy reading about it and over the past couple of days tried a few shots, with mixed results. This first shot was taken just outside the house and there is a bit of softness around the edges of the acorn due to movement as it was handheld and there was a breeze as well. I tried again today at lunchtime with a tripod, and some fill flash as it was a bit dull, but the midges got to me and it all ended up badly, with much cursing and jumping about. As a result I popped indoors and tried again with a large allium seed-head in much more benign conditions with reasonable results. I need to experiment with flash to try and get a little bit more depth of field while maintaining a decent shutterspeed and avoiding too high an ISO setting as that would produce excessive noise in the lovely soft background.
All good fun and I hope to do quite a bit of this, messing around with different lenses, macro and standard, plus using extension tubes and possibly an achromatic filter with my standard 50mm lens. More to come....
On Thursday I commenced an HNC in Photography at West Highland College in Broadford. Why did I decide to return to study when I really don't need any more paper qualifications? Well the answer lies in the inspiration generated by having to think more about photography, as opposed to simply snapping away at things that look nice. The course has not really started properly yet but I was out on Saturday to the north of Skye for work purposes, so on the way home I took a bit of a detour round to Staffin in search of some inspiration.
Many years ago in the early '90s I did a land use survey of the Staffin area and one of my favourite spots was the township of Digg (pronounced 'Jeeg'). So I popped in to see if there was anything of interest and stumbled upon an old tin roofed house in a pretty poor state of repair. Inside was this old range, lit from the right side through a missing back wall. I have lightened it up a bit and the colours and textures in the wall are really interesting and the range itself is grate (get it!).
The following shot is of the house that the range was in, and as you can see it was in a pretty poor state of repair. I tried this shot in full colour and in black & white but for this version I slightly desaturated the colours and I like the overall feel of it. Somehow the desaturated colours emphasise the sense of neglect and I love the downy thistle heads in the foreground.
Last weekend I had a short camping trip north to Altandhu with my friend Glyn Young, mainly with the object of doing photography, but also to get in a game of golf at Ullapool on the way home. The weather was mixed on the Saturday, with very low cloud to begin with, clearing away a little later one, with some patchy sunshine. Not ideal conditions as it turned out for photography but we managed a few good locations and the odd spot where the light was worth a try. The above shot was taken above Achnahaird, looking north-west over the lochs and bogs of the peninsula. There was a little patch on sunshine sneeking through the clouds, lighting up the ground beyond the nearest loch. The grass is now turning amber as autumn approaches, producing a nice contrast with the clouds and little pathces of blue peeking through. The following shot was taken to see if a closer perspective worked at all. I quite like the contrast bewteen the bright patch and the rest of the moorland but also the bright loch in the foreground, contrasted against the brooding cloudy sky.
As usual I managed to take a shot of passing places. In this case the road heading down towards Achnahairdf was brightly lit up by a patch of sunshine, set off beautifully against the murky grey of the low clouds on the Assynt hills in the background. Ther passing places were highlighted wonderfully.
Our road trip took us along the coast road to Lochinver and on to Drumbeg. We headed home via Ardvreck Castle on Loch Assynt where I took the following shot looking towards the limestone escarpment at Inchnadamph. The rocks and old posts in the foreground add interest to what might otherwise have been a dull scene. The colours were pretty flat, as were the clouds, so I converted this to black & white and burned the sky a fair bit to bring out the details in the clouds.
Glyn wanted to learn how to operate his camera in manual mode, so we did a bit of theory, for which the soft light from the overcast conditions was actually quite useful. This portrait shot was taken, along with one at f/22 as a comparison using different apertures and the impact on depth of field. I really like this shot, not only is it well focused with a good soft background, but Glyn's expression is brilliant.
It has been ages since my last post, mainly due to the frantic effort of getting on top of things at work, ready for a couple of weeks holiday in France, and then the actual holiday itself. This post comprises a collection of my favourite shots from the trip to the Saumur area of the Loire Valley in France. It is always good to travel to new and interesting places. From a photographic perspective it allows you to see things differently and to try out new alternative approaches to the light conditions which in this case are very different from home in the north-west Highlands.
The shots from Chateau Chenonceau were all taken with the intent of converting them to black & white, specifically to try and diminish the impact of the enormous number of visitors, often in bright clothing. I think this tactic worked really well, and the bright blue sky contrasting nicely with the white clouds provides a dramatic backdrop to this spectacular architectural gem.
I am an amateur photographer who is also a Chartered Geographer with his own part-time consultancy business and I work as an estate manager for a national conservation charity in Scotland. I am based in Lochalsh, Wester Ross, Scotland, just next to the Isle of Skye.
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