Set in Stone…

Some rules are rules right? So absolute that they’re said to be “set in stone”. Well, not always and I’m not exactly too sure that there’s one that says you can’t use flash outside, especially in the sunshine. In fact, it’s probably the best time to use flash as it gives great contrast & detail, and I like the look of it. Furthermore, you always see the profesionals using tons of lighting gear outside when you’d think that there’s plenty of available light to get decent shots. Clearly they know better (that’s why they’re the professionals).

So armed with my trusty Nikon SB900 I decided to give it a go. I’ve tried it before but, to be honest I wasn’t that well informed of the little tricks you need to know to get it to work effectively. Now I am; so all I needed was a subject.

Most of the photos that are made this way have people as subjects and the big problem with that is that they get bored just standing around while the photographer experiments etc. So I needed a subject, or subjects, that could stand around all day and have an infinite boredom threshold!

As luck would have it, the location provided the ideal subject: the stones on the Clent Hills. Four subjects quite happy to stand around all day looking good and not get bored.

As usual I took loads of shots but only a few made it through to the final rounds. They can be seen in the album “Set in Stone” on my Facebook fan page:

Hers’s my favourite from the day & an impromptu behind the scenes shot.

Standing stone on Clent Hills, lit with speedlight.
Favourite shot of the day.
Speedlight on stand with standing stones
Got this quite by accident but it makes for a good behind the scenes shot.


Well it’s been a while, the middle of Winter in fact, since my last blog post so it seemed quite fitting to make a return in the middle of Spring; or there about at any rate.

The absence wasn’t exactly planned, I just didn’t have any material. I suppose it was a photographers equivalent of “writers block”. I don’t know how those guys get over it but for me a return to basics seemed to do the trick and of course making the effort to go out & take some pictures.

Those of you who read this blog on a regular basis know that I’m always unhappy with my images when I’ve processed them for publication on the web. So the first return to square one was in my post production processing. Quite simply, I do a lot less of it! A lot of photographers, both amateur & professional, talk about getting it right in camera; which seems fairly logical as after all you can’t rescue everything with software etc. It makes a lot of sense and I have always tried to do it to some degree but never concentrated on it, as I’ve always thought that if the raw image from the camera looks ok then I can make it better with post processing afterwards.

By re-evaluating my approach and putting more effort into capturing the image I’ve suddenly discovered that I do less processing and I’m happier with the end result. And not only that, but there’s a whole load more techniques to employ in getting the shot in the first place as opposed to being proficient with a bit of software.

Anyway, a couple of shots with minimal processing but more effort made in capturing them etc. And having said that all I used was my D700 with a 50mm 1.4D prime and a reflector. The (minimal) post process was done in Capture NX2 and then converted in Photoshop.

Taken in direct sunlight.


Light bounced with a gold reflector

Warm Light, Cold Water.

Once again Winter has established itself in the UK. Whilst everyone complains about the snow & ice etc, I wonder how many people actually appreciate the fact that the conditions can contribute in an aesthetic kind of way.

Now most people will probably say “yes, it’s very picturesque” but how many will appreciate the combination of warm light (in this case my Nikon SB900 speedlight with a warm gel on it) and cold, very cold water; so cold it’s ice?

Well, hopefully most people who see this image. Remember, when it comes to photography – ice is nice…


By the way, this image is also on my website:; it’s not had much traffic lately so hence the shameless plug!

How to start the day… in Winter

Well, Winter has arrived here in the UK and if our media are to be believed, it’s not just any old Winter; but the return of the Ice Age! Now anyone who was up at 5:30am this morning and out by 6:15am would know that it was cold.

In fact it was about -7 o Celsius on average (the readout on the car recorded -9.5 at one point) as I made the half hour journey to The Wrekin to meet up with Mark and Chessie for a morning stroll; something we’ve been doing on and off for quite a while. But never when it has been this cold.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind the cold. In fact on mornings like this I quite enjoy it, although it does take a special kind of motivation to make the decision “stay in a nice warm bed or get up and go out into the cold etc”; particularly as the nice warm bed seemed like the most sensible thing to do and starting the day would mean a lie in and a decent breakfast a bit later on. But get up I did. So the day started with a couple of rounds of toast and then out to scrape the ice off the car and drive over to our usual meeting place. It all seemed like such a good idea the night before.

Now, I always carry my camera with me on such occasions but I’ve got lots of pictures from our route on the Wrekin so I no longer bother taking a full kit bag; just the D700, 24-70 lens and an SB900 speedlight. Should some photographic opportunity arise this small amount of kit should cover most eventualities. And today, it did.

The moon over The Wrekin
The Moon was still out. The Sun was about twenty minutes away from making an appearance... (click on image to see full size version)
Sunrise over The Wrekin
This presented itself quite unexpectedly. I though I'd long since exhausted the top of The Wrekin as a photo location... and then this (Click on image for full size version).

Sometimes the best way to start the day in Winter is not the most comfortable, but on days like today it’s worth it.

The Trouble With The Trees…

There is unrest in the forrest, there is trouble with the trees; for the maples want more sunlight and the oaks ignore their pleas…” sang Geddy Lee of Rush on the track entitled “The Trees” from their 1978 album “Hemispheres”.

Image of trees in Autumn
This image has had a little processing and is shown here at 300 x 199 pixels. Click to enlarge.

This post isn’t exactly about oaks & maples (in fact I haven’t got a clue what the trees in the pictures are) but it is sort of about sunlight, more specifically how it made the trees look good and hence me grabbing my camera to capture it. The trouble with theses particular trees however is not about them arguing over sunlight but the fact that once the images have been resized to make them suitable to post on the web; they don’t look as good as the original files straight out of my camera.

Autumnal trees
This image has had no processing other than post resizing sharpening. Click to enlarge.

First, a bit of an explanation of the process involved. My camera is a Nikon D700 (with very good lenses) and I shoot in RAW mode. This means that it produces files in Nikon’s proprietary NEF format which are 4256 pixels by 2832 pixels. And when viewed in Aperture 3, they look good; in some cases they look great! I try not to do too much processing, maybe some exposure, white balance, curves and highlight/shadow adjustment where needed but images like these generally don’t need it. Then it’s time to resize for posting.

Autumnal Trees
A little adjustment made to this image. Click to large.

Now images destined for viewing on the web generally have a resolution of 72dpi and are anywhere between 500 pixels to 800 pixels wide. In the case of theses images they are 798 x 531 pixels at 72dpi (displayed at 300 x 199 when viewed in the post, click on them to view at 798 x 531 etc – it’s a WordPress thing). It’s this bit of the process where it all seems to go a bit wrong. One of the problems with reducing the size of an image is that it “softens” the image and the solution is to “sharpen” it following the resizing etc.

Autumnal Tress
Click to enlarge

Now this is all well and good and the theory is well documented and makes sense once you understand the technicalities. The problem is, well for me anyway, that the final image doesn’t look as great as before the resizing. It doesn’t seem to matter what I do or what tools I use (generally NIK sharpener Pro 3 plugin for Photoshop), it just doesn’t cut it. Now don’t get me wrong I’m not always disappointed with every image I produce, sometimes I’m satisfied and just occasionally mildly impressed; but never as much as I am with the original size image.

Autumnal Trees
Click to enlarge

What makes it worse is that all the images that I see on the web by other photographers look great; what am I doing wrong! According to the song, “And the trees are all kept equal, by hatchet, axe and saw…”.

Well, I’ve got all the hatchets, axes and saws that I need; guess it’s time to learn how to use them a little better.

Does anyone actually know what pumpkin tastes like?

It may be just me, but here in the UK the only time we see anything to do with pumpkins is around Halloween; and even then it’s not really to do with food. It’s not even as though there’s a traditional dish that’s eaten on 31st October (or at least I’m not aware of one).

It seems that most pumpkins are destined to be turned into a form of decorative lantern based on tradition; not that this is necessarily a bad thing though and who am I to argue.

Here’s three examples of carved pumpkins as produced by our niece & nephews:

Face carved on Pumpkin

Face carved on PumpkinFace carved on PumpkinStill don’t know what pumpkin tastes like though…

If Man Was Meant to Fly.

“If man was meant to fly, the Lord would have given him wings”; or so the saying goes.

Well man didn’t get wings, by either divine or evolutionary means, but what he did get was engineering. One of the many results of which is aviation and some fine examples of it can be seen at the RAF museum at Cosford.

It’s well worth a visit whether you’re interested in the military aspect, the aviation aspect or the history etc; in fact it doesn’t matter as the exhibits are impressive and there’s a fair few of them, and if you’re a photographer then it’s just great. The lighting is a little awkward as there’s a mixture of sources but I just fired away with my trusty SB900 flash with a diffuser on and the Nikon CLS system just took care of it. I took around 80 shots in just over two hours and I certainly could have taken more! What’s even more impressive, to me at any rate, is the fact that over 50 % were worth keeping.

Here’s my favourite shot; the Vulcan bomber. Even though you can get a sense of scale from the people in the shot, it’s nowhere near as impressive as seeing it first hand (along with all the other aircraft and exhibits).

Vulcan Bomber at RAF Cosford Air Museum
A Vulcan (and we're not talking 'bout Mr Spock here...)

I’ve put a few of the shots on the Facebook page ( but it’s not as good as a visit to the museum itself.

Oh, and the other good thing; it’s free admission! You do have to pay to park (£3.00) but that’s hardly anything to complain about… so go… enjoy!

What Academics Do With Their Dead Wood…

Mention “getting rid of the dead wood” to most people in the context of an organisation or company, it is normally taken to mean job losses & cut backs etc (rather topical at the moment here in the UK!).

Now we all know that Oxford University is a centre of excellence in the world of higher education and as such we expect it’s many academics to think a little bit differently to the rest of us so when it came to dead wood, well; they did.

Did they get rid of it? No, they put it on display for people like me to take photographs of… genius!

Tree Roots at Oxford University Natural History DepartmentTree Roots

And my contribution to the cerebral activities of such illustrious institution? – a photo of a giant tree root that might, just might, look like a dragons head.

Tree Root that looks like the head of a dragon
Is it a tree root or the fossilised head of a dragon?

No doubt the psychology faculty would be able to make something of that…

Two Degrees of Separation

Ok, I know, it’s supposed to be six degrees of separation; but I needed some words to put against this particular image.

Now I could have wrote about the technicalities of the shot for the photographically savvy but that would have been missing the point so; there’s me thinking that this photo, of which I’m quite pleased, wasn’t going to be seeing the light of day etc.

I’m driving home thinking “What can I write about this? Just need a clever pun or soupcon of witty repartee etc”. By the time I get home I still haven’t thought of anything but I am thinking “hmm, hungry; gonna have be a bacon & mushroom sarnie with plenty of brown sauce”. And then I’ve got it! A simple link between a photo taken on an early morning walk and my breakfast: fungi!

Now before we go any further let’s be quite clear that wild growing fungi, toadstools & mushrooms etc should NOT be eaten. They’re highly poisonous and likely to be fatal in some cases so I say again DON”T EAT THEM!!! Yes, some people can identify the edible ones etc but I’d much prefer we all played it safe and got our mushrooms from the grocer or supermarket etc.

Fungi on tree
Wild Fungi (Poisonous!!!)
Bacon & Mushroom Sandwich
Mushrooms on Bacon Sarnie (edible – not overly healthy though!)

They won’t kill you; not even after I’ve cooked them… well not exactly….might make you a bit ill…. only a bit…

A Few Changes…

Firstly, if you’re reading this then you’ll have noticed the change of host & URL.

If you got here because you read the last article on my old blog ( then you know what’s going on. If you’re a newcomer, then welcome; glad you could drop by and I really hope you’ll be a regular visitor.

Secondly, my workflow has really changed over the last few weeks, which is why I haven’t taken many new photos. Basically I’ve gone from a PC to a Mac and have had to adjust to a new way of working; somethings are the same and somethings aren’t etc.

Anyway I’ve certainly no regrets. Here’s an image processed through the new workflow; now if I can just find the “Photographic Talent Booster Application”….

A robin in the garden