Archive for the ‘Photo Tips’ category

Panasonic GF1 first impressions

March 24, 2011

Normally I blog about photography rather than cameras, but this post is a bit different.

Panasonic’s highly regarded GF1 micro 4/3rds camera has been discontinued, and a new model, the GF2, has replaced it.  So why the report of a GF1?  Well, it’s because I’ve just bought one!  I reckon that buying an outgoing model is a sensible option as it gets significantly discounted, and offers most of the performance of the new model.  It’s true of the GF1.  I also prefer the control dials on the GF1 to the touch screen controls on the GF2.

So what’s special about the GF1?  Well, it’s small but packs a real punch.  It takes interchangeable lenses and the sensor is much bigger than a compact digital camera so the image quality is there.  It’s on Alamy’s list of approved cameras, so it must be good.

"Vibrant colour!" by Derek Gale

Here’s a shot with the kit 14-45mm lens of some pegs, a sheet and the blue sky.  It’s really crisp and punchy.  Using the rear screen to compose isn’t too bad in the sun, so the lack of an optical viewfinder shouldn’t be a real problem.  Panasonic do sell an electronic viewfinder, but it’s not too good, and very pricey.

"GF1 stones" by Derek Gale

This still life of stones in a small bowl shows a lot of subtle tones.  It will focus to about 1 foot, and the Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS) makes using a small lens aperture easy without recourse to a tripod.

"GF1 abstract" by Derek Gale

For this abstract plant image, using a lot of camera movement during the exposure, I turned the OIS system off.   There’s no point trying to get a blurry image if the camera’s trying to stop you!

"GF1 fruit" by Derek Gale

The GF1 has a hot shoe for fitting a flash gun, or in this case a Yongnuo radio flash trigger controlling a Nikon SB-800 flash.  The flash was bounced off a grey ceiling to control the reflections, especially those off the shiny lemon.  I’ve done a bit of colour control and vignetting in Photoshop CS5 to give a nice old-fashioned feel to the image.

"GF1 glass elephant" by Derek Gale

This last image is of a glass elephant and was set up in low light to see how the live view viewfinder coped.  It was OK.  As with the previous image I’ve fired a remote flash using a radio trigger.  The flash was about 18 inches below and behind the elephant, which back-lit it very well.

So what are my impressions?  So far, very good!  I’m about to get the fabled 20mm f1.7 prime lens, so will give you a report about that at a later date.

Cheers,

Derek                                        www.galephotography.co.uk

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A visit to Diagon Alley

February 17, 2011

In the Harry Potter wizard books, (that you may have heard about), there’s a place called Diagon Alley where wizards go to shop/bank and buy ice-creams.  It’s a magical and powerful place, and has a counterpart in creative photography; the diagonal composition line.  Think of it as your Diagonal Ally (groan).

Let me explain…

"Diagonal 1" by Derek Gale

Images with strong subject lines, in this case going from one corner to the opposite corner, help the viewer by giving them a lead into the image.  This aircraft image is an extreme example.  The diagonal line from bottom left to top right takes us straight up to the aircraft.  It looks as if it’s climbing steeply to fly off to a far away place.  The plane is almost at the corner of the frame, so we get an idea that it’s leaving our space.

"Diagonal Angel" by Derek Gale

Unlike a plane the “Angel of the North” is firmly rooted, but I’ve used the diagonal here as well.  The wings going from top right to bottom left give the image its basic shape, allowing me to use the sun as a balancing element.  I used a 20mm wide-angle lens in order to exaggerate the perspective. 

"Diagonal Pembroke" by Derek Gale

Wings again but on another aircraft rather than a statue.  This is a privately owned Percival Pembroke C-1 that’s preserved and gives flying displays.  As it passed along the display line it was banked to the left to give the spectators the best view.  I’ve cropped the image so that the wings go along a diagonal from top left to bottom right.  It makes the image much stronger.   Taken with a 400mm telephoto lens.

"Diagonal jump" by Derek Gale

Diagonal lines also work in creative portrait photography.  This portrait of someone jumping has a diagonal line made by his right arm and left leg.  It’s not as pronounced as the other images. It’s more of a Z-shape than a straight line, but it still adds to the impact of the image.  I’ve used a low viewpoint and a wide-angle lens so it’s hard to see just how high off the ground he is.

"Diagonal champagne" by Derek Gale

This final example, taken at Avebury, doesn’t have such an extreme diagonal line as the others.  It still shows just how much better the composition is with a diagonal.  The whole feel of the image is more relaxed than it would be if the bottle was vertical.  The torn foil, open bottle, and minimal contents let us know it was very relaxed.  I used a long lens and wide aperture to make the image as simple as possible.

Remember to visit Diagon Alley with your own images!

On a non-diagonal note, I’ve entered the Macallan Masters of Photography competition.  The theme is “Great Journeys”.  The prize winners will be decided by popular vote, then by expert judging.  There are some fantastic travel images well worth having a look at.  You need to be over 18 to enter the site, as it’s sponsored by a whisky company. Once you’ve entered your date of birth you can then click back on to my blog and vote for my images here, here, here and here.  If you would like to of course…

Cheers,

Derek                               www.galephotography.co.uk

The Car’s the Star: Part 2

January 27, 2011

If, like me, you love cars especially classic cars, you will have probably got frustrated trying to photograph them at car shows.  They aren’t always parked in the best place, you have little control over the lighting, and there always seems to be other people in the way!

"Pininfarina Spider in Bristol" by Derek Gale

Here’s an example.  It’s a very nice Pininfarina spidereuropa 2000i (mine!) at last’s year’s Bristol Italian Auto Moto Festival.  It was taken in a brief moment when there was no-one walking past or looking at it.  The Festival is held on the street in the old part of Bristol, so there are often distracting buildings in the background, as can be seen here.  In case you were wondering, the roads and the bank were closed, so I wasn’t parked illegally!

Under these circumstances, instead of trying to get the whole car, it’s better to capture the details that are often missed.  These little details, such as badges, are often works of art in themselves.  Getting in close allows you to hide (or creatively use) the background, lose people, and control the light a bit more.

"Lamborghini Espada badge" by Derek Gale

This is the badge of a fabulous Lamborghini Espada in classic Italian red.   The Espada was Lamborghini’s 4-seat supercar, and was made between 1968 and 1978.  The badge shows the bull that they adopted as their symbol.  Some say it’s a dig at Ferrari, whose badge symbol is a prancing horse, because bulls are more powerful than horses!  The badge and strake on the bonnet are like an arrow pointing forwards. 

"Vignale coachbuilder's badge" by Derek Gale

As well as the badge of a car’s manufacturer, you may also find the badge of the coachbuilder.  Coachbuilders are the people who build bodies for cars/coaches/lorries etc.  This is a Vignale badge on a very rare Triumph Italia 2000.  The car was designed by Michelotti, and built in Turin by Vignale on Triumph TR3 running gear.  The badge is a lovely piece of enamelling featuring the Mole Antoelliana, a famous Turin landmark, and the “V”  shape reflects the shape of the Turin coat of arms.

"Triumph Italia badge" by Derek Gale

The badge denoting the car model is another beautiful bit of design and engineering.  It’s delightful how the stroke of the “t” lines up with the “2” of 2000, and how the zeros get smaller towards the right.  This level of detailing helps make the car look as if it’s moving even when it’s standing still.  The reflected building in this image gives a good curved zigzag line which adds to the sense of movement.

"Superleggera badge" by Derek Gale

This badge denotes the method that’s been used to construct the car’s body.  “Superleggera” means “Super lightweight”, and is a system of steel tubes covered with aluminium panels to give the final shape of the car.  The system was developed by the coachbuilder Carrozzeria Touring in Milan.  Their own badge is also in the shot.  This image of the badge and panel gap really benefitted from a diagonal composition.  I was careful to ensure that the reflection in the background didn’t break the line of the Touring badge.

"VT badge" by Derek Gale

This final badge is on the back of a supercar.  It’s only when you look closely at the badges that you see the tiny little features that the designer has put in.  On the bottom left of each letter there’s a small stroke off to the left that gives the impression of speed; it’s a very clever bit of iconography.  Any ideas as to what car it’s on?  Obviously it’s Italian, as it was at an Italian car show.

You don’t need a DSLR to be a creative photographer.  All of these images were taken with a Panasonic Lumix FX-500 compact digital camera set on wide-angle and macro.  It’s all down to the photographer.

Cheers,

Derek.                           www.galephotography.co.uk

Same person: different look.

December 16, 2010

In creative portrait photography how an image looks is down to the photographer.  In the studio how you light your subject is critical, and for location images it’s critical to work properly with the natural light.  How you then modify the light can dramatically affect the look of an image. 

Once you have your lighting sorted, simple changes to the composition of the image can also change the look significantly.

"Split image" by Derek Gale

Take this image:  The lighting, a soft-box from the front, is quite simple.  The interest comes from having the subject’s face split by a sheet of muslin that was hung up to act as a diffuser/reflector.  I had taken a series without the muslin and then asked her to move slightly so that it was partly in front of her face.  It was far enough away from her to be nicely out of focus, and its translucency allowed the obscured part of her face to show through sufficiently.

"Hair!" by Derek Gale

We tried to get some shots  of her hair “in flight”. They were fine, but I wanted more structure to the image.  We spread her hair out on the studio floor and I shot from a step-ladder directly above her.   It was simple to light with a fairly directional light on her hair which gave a nice sharp shadow under her chin.  Even though her expression was similar to the previous image, the end result was very different!

"Poster girl" by Derek Gale

Away from the studio there’s less control of lighting direction, unless you carry remotely fired flash units, so you need to be careful with where you do your shoot.  This urban image was at an abandoned car repair centre and the fly posters had been  busy.  I made sure that enough of a poster was included to clearly show the type of area we were in, but not so much that the poster’s text was a distraction.  Her pose echoed the pose of the man on the poster.  I’ve punched up the background colour by “cross-processing” it in Photoshop.

"Wall supports" by Derek Gale

Same day, same shoot, completely different look.  The pipes in the image were supports for a wall near the Railway Village in Swindon and were at quite an acute angle.  By asking my model to lean on the pipes, and then tilting the camera so she looked more upright, her arms became much more elegant.  The background brickwork also became less distracting.  A crop to simplify the image, a bit of “diffuse glow”, and it was done.

"Estate portrait" by Derek Gale

Same day, same shoot and yet another look.  This final image shows how the most mundane of objects, an estate car, can be used for creative portraits.  My model is lying down on the load area floor.  The car’s open rear hatch screened the direct sun, which meant that the remaining light was beautifully diffused.  The grey carpet and shadow area from the rear seats acted as a perfect foil to her skin tones.  The black and white conversion simplified the image.

As you can see: one day, one model, many different looks.  Control your lighting and your composition to get variety into your images.

Cheers,

Derek                     www.galephotography.co.uk

A highly dynamic photographer

December 9, 2010

Our eyes are wonderful things.  They can see texture on brightly lit surfaces and in deep shadows, let you read a newspaper by moonlight, and even see in starlight. Cameras aren’t quite as good as our eyes.  They can record good highlight detail, or they can record good shadow texture, but most of the time they can’t record both simultaneously.  The amount of brightness and shadow that a camera can record is known as its “dynamic range”.

There’s a photographic technique that you can use to produce images that more closely resemble how the eyes see.  It’s called “High Dynamic Range” photography, or HDR for short.  In this technique you take a series of images with different exposure settings; known as “Exposure Bracketing”.  The simplest method uses images taken at; the correct exposure, one unit under exposed, and one unit overexposed, however you can take other combinations.  I’ve taken up to 9 shots with varying exposures for some of my HDR images.  The sets of images are then put together on the computer using special software.

"Canadian street HDR" by Derek Gale

This is a simple HDR image of the sunset in a small town in Canada.  Without HDR I had the choice to expose for the sky or to expose for the trees, not both.  The images were taken hand-held.  That’s always a bit of a risk with this sort of photography as you can get “ghosting” where the images don’t quite overlap because you’ve moved a bit.  You’re better off using a tripod.

"Tithe Barn HDR" by Derek Gale

I used a tripod for this 9-image HDR shot of the 13th-century tithe barn at Great Coxwell near Faringdon.  I loved the dramatic sky, and wanted to really show it against the texture of the stone barn. Converting the final image to black and white helped to give an air of mystery to the image.  I used a very wide angle lens to give a bit of perspective drama.

"Tractor & farm HDR" by Derek Gale

One thing you need to be careful of with HDR images is the “cartoony” effect that you can get.  The software I use has settings for various styles of image.  I like the “photorealistic” option as it leaves the images looking more natural.  This tractor shot shows what can happen if  you use the “surrealistic” setting.  The contrast and colour are significantly changed from the original images.  It’s OK for a few images but can be a bit intense for some subjects.

"Leopard tank interior HDR" by Derek Gale

This image is from a trip to the “tank shed” at the Defence Academy in Shrivenham.  It’s of the interior of a sectioned Leopard tank; Germany’s main battle tank for many years.  The lighting was quite contrasty and using HDR helped me to get detail in the shadows that was not recorded in a normal exposure.  HDR’s not a good technique for portraits as the need to take multiple images means your subject has to stay absolutely still.  Here the crew were dummies so it was easy!

"The Folly HDR" by Derek Gale

HDR is useful in architectural photography too.  This image, of an 18th-century folly in Berkshire, shows detail in the artificially lit interior as well as the naturally lit exterior.  On the day there was a significant difference between the brightness of the inside compared to the outside, but HDR was able to show both well.

So, to improve the dynamic range in your creative photography try a bit of HDR!

Cheers,

Derek                www.galephotography.co.uk

Snow, snow, quick, quick, snow!

December 2, 2010

The winter weather has come early to the UK, but instead of  hiding away inside in the warm, treat it as a chance to take some stunning winter images.  As long as you keep yourself safe, (no walking on icy lakes), and keep your camera as warm as you can, it’s a great time for creative photography.  You’ll also see things that you never see the rest of the year.

"Frosty windscreen" by Derek Gale

A frosty car windscreen is a perfect example.  I’ve used a 50mm macro lens from inside the car (out of the wind!), and made sure the background was dark to give better contrast.  These ice crystals are a pain to shift when you want to drive, but are simply beautiful to photograph.  Their fractal character means they look like feathers, or ferns.

"Icicle" by Derek Gale

Icicles are excellent photographic subjects.  This one, at the base of a wind turbine, seemed to be not very bothered about which direction it grew in.  It only started to point downwards near its end.  Again I needed to control the background to make the icicle stand out.  The out-of-shot sky was blue, which gave blueness to the shadows, and gave a very cool feel to the image.

"Snow shadows" by Derek Gale

Snow images often benefit by being turned into black & white.  I loved the way the winter sun formed long shadows across the snow by the table.  The low early morning sun really picked out the snow’s textures, and the black & white conversion simplified the image.  My high viewpoint helped to give a strong, simple composition.  As with most snow pictures I needed to give some positive Exposure Compensation so the snow came out white, and not grey.

"Trees in snow" by Derek Gale

For most of the year the ground under these trees is mostly brown.  This means that the colour contrast between the trees and the ground is quite low.  The snow on the ground changed all that, and allowed a pattern picture with a contrasting foreground.  The trees’ shadows gave more contrast and texture to the snow.  I cropped it into a vertical letterbox to accentuate the trees’ shapes.

"Birdtracks" by Derek Gale

Although a lot of the time it’s quite hard to see birds, the snow lets you see where they have been.  This bird has walked, not hopped, and left a great trail running diagonally across the image.  I’ve dropped down to get the best angle, and focused on the nearest track.  I let the other tracks go out of focus, into the darker area. Control of focus is a powerful compositional tool for photographers.

As you can see the winter weather is a great aid to your photography.  Wrap up warm, and use all that reflected light creatively!

Cheers,

Derek                          www.galephotography.co.uk

“If you stop learning you stop growing”

November 11, 2010

Continuing to learn is especially important in creative photography because there are so many different subject areas and photographic styles, not to mention the changes in technology. I try to continuously develop my own photography and, as today is my birthday, it’s time for a bit of reflection on some of the things I’ve learnt in the past year.

"Biker" by Derek Gale

This shot, from an advanced studio photography course I attended, shows that sometimes you need lots of lights to get a great shot.  The person was lit with just 2 lights, it was the bike that was the challenge.  It was lit by light reflecting off a large white sheet that was itself lit with 5 lights.  This technique gave a better quality of illumination on the bike’s shiny surfaces, and I’m using it in my commissioned work for clients.

"Below Niagara HDR" by Derek Gale

Digital photography involves the use of computers, and these days keeping up to date with developments in image editing software is vital.  I was happy with the composition of this shot of Niagara Falls from below, after all my “The Creative Eye” course includes sections on composition, but I wanted to add a bit more punch to the image.  I used the latest version of Adobe Photoshop to make a High Dynamic Range (HDR) image from a single RAW file.  It’s a technique I learned this year, and it’s great for giving more detail in the shadow areas while keeping the highlight detail.

"Wild strawberry" by Derek Gale

Setting yourself photographic challenges is a great way to learn, and this year I challenged myself to take as many creative images as I could in 30 minutes.  I blogged about this previously, and this is another image from that shoot.  A simple shot of a wild strawberry taken with a 50mm Sigma macro lens.  Getting effective simple shots takes a lot of practice.

"Horse's eye" by Derek Gale

Pushing the boundaries of your cameras is also a great way to learn.  I use a Lumix FX-500 digital compact camera, and it’s a great photographic tool.  It has a surprising close-up ability, and by experimenting I’ve found that it’s ideal for close up portraits.  This shot, of a horse’s eye, shows that you don’t need to show the whole of the face to show the subject well.  To me there’s a sadness in there.

"Ashmolean statue" by Derek Gale

This year I’ve also been inspired by other photographers’ work, and by other works of art.  We can learn so much by looking at paintings, sculpture (and the way it’s displayed), architecture, film and TV.  The newly revised Ashmolean museum in Oxford is fabulous, and I loved the way this sculpture was silhouetted against the sun on the window blinds.

"Sunbathing potatoes" by Derek Gale

Sometimes by being a photographer we learn things about subjects other than photography.  I saw these through a “potting shed” window in the grounds of Chastleton House in Oxfordshire.  At first glance they looked like eggs, although I did wonder why eggs would be there.  They are in fact potatoes, and they are getting a good start to growing by being left in the sun for a while.  They did look as if they were sunbathing!

If my learning this year has inspired you to learn then my “The Creative Eye” course could be ideal.   The next course is on Sat 13th Nov 2010 at the Court Hill Centre near Wantage.  Online sales have ended, but you can still book by calling 01793 783859.

Cheers,

Derek                     www.galephotography.co.uk