Weekly Photo Challenge: Dreamy

I’ve been experimenting with long exposures this week by sticking a 10 Stop ND Filter on the front of my lens. These filters are almost black and cut down the amount of light reaching the sensor which means you have to keep the shutter open longer to capture the same amount of light. For example, yesterday was a sunny day with clouds, without the filter my camera was saying that the exposure should be 1/500 second. With the filter in place the exposure time was two seconds. That’s enough to give blurry movement of the clouds. With me so far?

Wild Talacre

But maybe not enough to give me a “dreamy” look. I wanted a longer exposure and one way of getting that is to use HDR. The other way is to by using a smaller aperture in conjunction with the ND Filter to let even less light hit the sensor. In this case you would have to keep the shutter open longer to get the same amount of light. Do you understand the relationship between “f number”  and the size of the aperture in your camera and how it affects the final picture. I have a simple rule of thumb that I use. Nothing scientific. The higher the aperture number i.e. f22 the smaller the opening will be in my lens, therefore the longer I will have to keep the shutter open. Of course I don’t have to calculate it, the camera does it for me, most of the time. Want to understand more? There’s an excellent article with simple diagrams about Aperture and Shutter Speed on Face The Light that you can read. Of course using longer exposures means that you need to use a tripod to keep your photograph in focus. Well the non-moving parts at least.

ND filters come in two types, circular ones that you screw to the front of your lens, or square ones that you place in a filter holder that screws onto the front of your lens. They also come in various price ranges from cheap and cheerful through to extremely expensive, but one thing they nearly all do is leave a colour cast to the final result. Usually it’s red or orange, but if you shoot in RAW that you can compensate by adjusting the “White Balance” temperature.

I use a cheap and cheerful one that I ordered from a company called SRB Photographic, mainly because I’m only experimenting. Also I had seen a review of the filter from a photographer called Brad Kalpin who had recently bought a 10 Stop ND Filter from SRB Photographic and he was quite positive about it’s use. For me reviews are a great way of helping me make a decision about future purchases. What about you? Do you use reviews?

While some people are afraid of snakes, others have phobias about high places – I’m scared of long exposures. – Ralph Bartholomew Jr.

Not me! Now that I have tried long exposure photography I want to do more. I can see the potential for taking photographs that look different and i can’t wait to get out and try that 10 Stop with moving water.

Sunrise At Le Haut Chêne

On my way back from Normandy, France we had an early start to get back to the Channel Tunnel terminal at Calais. So as the sun was rising we set off through the country lanes to reach one of the main roads that would speed up our journey as we headed north. Now the lanes are narrow with very few passing places and as we swept round the bend I noticed this modern day plough sitting in a field. With the sun rising and a low lying mist in the valley I just knew I had to stop and photograph it.

Early Morning

Early morning like this is always a good opportunity for HDR photographs, there are deep shadows and lots of highlights giving an exceptional dynamic range. Normally I would use a tripod but it was packed underneath our luggage and the several cases of wine and beer we had bought for the UK. It’s so much cheaper and of better quality, especially the beer, than can be found in the UK.

Now you might think “what’s he rambling on about  this for”? There’s a reason. Normally I use the Zemanta plugin for Google Chrome to give me the Related Article links for the end of my blog but recently I’ve been having problems. The good folks at Zemanta are trying to resolve the problem for me but so far we have had mixed success. So that’s why I’m rambling on. I’m trying to give the search engine something to hook onto.

Anyway back to the tripod and its use in HDR. When you are bracketing a series of photographs for processing by PhotoMatix, my HDR program of choice, you need to keep the camera still, especially in low light. PhotoMatix has a very good alignment option but if the movement is too much between the brackets it really does struggle to cope and the chances are you will get a blurred picture. Of course I could always increase the ISO speed, which will shorten the exposure times, but the downside of HDR processing is “higher ISO = more noise”. Sure there are great programs for cancelling out noise after processing, Topaz De-Noise, come to mind, but the less noise you generate in the beginning the better it is all round.

But for this photograph I had to go hand-held. We were parked on a bend on the D624 just outside the hamlet of Le Haut Chêne, light wasn’t great and as the road is used as a shortcut between two major roads I didn’t want to be hanging around too long, even at that time of the morning.

A quick dash into the field, framed the shot, fired off the brackets, checked they were ok and then back to the car. Not bad really and pretty fast.


Only The Penitent Man Shall Pass

There’s a scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where Indy in search of the Holy Grail has to go through a tunnel passing three trials on his way. If you’ve seen the film can you remember the whirling blades that fly out of the walls to decapitate their victim? Several have already tried to get through and finally “the nasties” force Indy to go through. As Indy starts through the tunnel he works out from the clue in his fathers notebook that the phrase “Only the penitent man shall pass”means something. Just in time Indy kneels down in penitence and the blades whirl harmlessly over his head.

Basilica of Notre Dame
Sometimes in church photography being a “penitent man” gives a totally different aspect to a photograph. I often lie or kneel on the floor to get the photograph I want, but here’s the rub. It’s not always appreciated in churches, especially the more touristy ones. Tripods are often frowned upon but I was fortunate here. Despite these restriction I was able to capture this photograph at the Basilica of Notre Dame, Montligeon, Normandy, France

What’s In A Name?

How many characters in your town or village name? How would you like to live in a village called “Saint Mary’s Church in a hollow of white hazel near the swirling whirlpool of the church of Saint Tysilio with a red cave”. Honestly that’s what it’s called, or should I say that’s what the English translation from Welsh calls it. In Welsh the village name is Llanfair­pwllgwyn­gyllgo­gery­chwyrn­drobwll­llanty­silio­gogo­goch and that’s 58 characters to be precise. Can you imagine addressing a post-card or a letter? How do you fit it all in? Thankfully it’s often shortened to Llanfairpwll or Llanfair PG and in the UK we use postcodes, so hopefully there’s no confusion with other villages which start with Llanfair.

Llanfair PG

Since the WordPress Weekly Challenge happens to be Signs this week I thought I’d show you one of the railway signs with the full name. Invented in 1860 for promotional purposes it is the largest place name in Europe and the second largest in the world, at 85 characters Taumata (shortened) in New Zealand is the longest. Although I have read that a place in Thailand lays claim to 163 letters now and that place is Bangkok or Krung Thep which is the shortened version of Krung­thep­maha­nakorn­amorn­ratana­kosin­mahintar­ayutthay­amaha­dilok­phop­noppa­ratrajathani­burirom­udom­rajaniwes­mahasat­harn­amorn­phimarn­avatarn­sathit­sakkattiya­visanukamprasit. You can understand why the locals call it Krung Thep?

Symphony Of Lights

Every night in Hong Kong Victoria Harbour is lit up with a dazzling multimedia light show which illuminates the exterior of 45 buildings on both sides of the harbour. Developed by Laservision, an Australian firm, the show features music, decorative lighting and lasers. Guinness World Records has recorded the show as the world’s largest permanent show and I think it makes a good subject for this weeks Weekly Photo Challenge, especially as the subject is Night Time.

Hong Kong

Organised by the Hong Kong Tourism Board, and as long as there is good weather, the show can be seen every night commencing at 8 pm (2000 hrs) and lasts for about 14 minutes.  Each night the show alternates the commentary language between, English (Mon, Wed, Fri), Mandarin (Tue, Thu, Sat) and Cantonese (Sun). Best places to see the show are the “Avenue of Stars” on the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront or Wan Chai promenade outside the Golden Bauhinia Square. Both places get very crowded so make sure you pick your spot and stick to it. Tripods will get bumped by the crowds, there’s no getting away from it.

Topaz Impression – Release The Artist.

Over the past few weeks I have been beta testing a new plugin for Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom called Topaz Impression. Many people were upset when Adobe removed the Paint Filter from Photoshop but it looks like Topaz have managed to fill the gap with their new plugin Impression which allows you to create a paint look to your photographs. I’m not giving you a formal review here, just a quick look at what can be achieved with very little effort.


The interface is really simple and there about 43 presets that you can use to get an instant look. All you have to do is select the preset from the right hand side and Topaz Impression will do the rest.


For the more adventurous and for those who want to experiment you can click on the preset which will enable you to adjust individual settings, such as brush stroke, paint thickness, smudging, type of brush, texture etc. You can see here how I have changed this photograph of the robin.


Topaz Impression is not something I’m going to use very day, far from it.  It’s one of those tools I will keep in my arsenal and when I want to add some texture to a photograph I will blend in something like this black and white sketch to my original photograph


In the photograph below I have layered in the black and white sketch which gives me the starting point for working on this photograph which I am going to use in a composite image. I wanted the pale floors and wall because I will use this later to colour match the additional items that i will be adding to the image.


When I took this photograph a couple of years ago I always thought it would make a great painting. It’s sat on my hard drive, I’ve used it a couple of times for blog posts but by using Topaz Impression I’ve finally managed to get this photograph how I originally envisioned it would turn out.


When you use Impression you can add textures to the final result. As usual Topaz supply a batch of them for everyday use. Can you add your own textures? I’m not sure, that’s something I really must check out. In the image below I used one of the ready-made canvas textures. Whilst I was writing this i decided to check out if I could add to Topaz Impression some of the textures that I have created myself. Directly through the program interface you can’t but you can by saving your own textures as PNG files and a size of 512 x 512 pixels and then placing them in the Textures folder for Topaz Impression. Now that is handy.


This photograph with the pink flowers was one of those that I screwed up when I was taking it. Slightly out of focus, especially in the foreground area with t he pink flowers, I had got the lighting wrong as well but Topaz Impression has made a good job of turning it into a nice soft painting. I’d like to leave you with this final photograph. Couple of weeks ago I created this out-of-box image as a demonstration for someone and yesterday I thought it would be a good idea to turn it into a painting. I’m quite pleased with the results. What do you think?


Here’s the disclaimer part. As a beta tester for Topaz Labs I was supplied with a free license at the end of the trial and that’s as far as it goes. I do not make any money for mentioning Topaz or any of their products. It is not my intention to recommend any product that I may talk about in my blog, all I am doing is letting you know what I use and why. I leave you to decide if that product could be of value to you in your work and as such I will provide a link so that you can read for yourself what the developers have to say.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Endurance

At last! A weekly photo challenge theme that I have no trouble interpreting. Endurance lets me use some of the old churches that I have spent the last six month photographing. So as an added bonus I’m going to include a few photographs from the village of Llanelidan, North Wales. Like many small villages, the church, village hall and pub all lie within 200 yards of each other overlooking the village cricket ground and pavilion, but it’s the church I am interested in.

Saint Elidan-Exterior

The exterior of the church is like many in this area, built from solid stone, nothing garish, and like many churchyards in North Wales, there seems to be the obligatory yew tree present. Inside though Saint Elidan’s has a totally different look from the plain exterior. For a start there is a double nave, not obvious when you are looking at the church from the outside, it doesn’t look large enough.

Altar and Sstained Glass

The stained glass maintains a simple look, but there are some medieval fragments embedded in these plain windows. To be honest I prefer this to the more ornate glass that can be found in some churches, mainly because it lets in a lot of light. I visited on a nice sunny day and the light streaming through the windows gave me some nice light and shade areas, making it perfect for some HDR photography. I’m standing in the second nave, looking towards the rear of the church, the altar you see in the photograph above is behind me and to my right

Saint Elidan-Interior

In the photograph above you can see an example of a Box Pew which dates from at least the mid 18th century. It may be earlier though as I’m dating it from the date carved into one of the doors in the pews. I wonder who RP was?


Box Pews were prevalent in England and other Protestant countries from the 16th to early 19th century. Up until the Restoration only the Lord of The Manor would sit in church. But after 1569 because the congregation were expected to listen to sermons, seating was installed, mainly stools but later pews and box pews, which allowed the family to sit together and also provided some elements of privacy. Unlike the pews shown in the photograph which are laid out in a formal way, many of the pews were random personal constructions with windows, curtains tables and even fireplaces.  By the 17th century the panelling in many of the pews had become so high it was difficult to see out, or more importantly see in. This led to many of the pews being used for anything other than prayer and William Hogarth was quick to satirize this trend with his paintings and sketches.  Eventually the ad-hoc box pews were replaced with more formal uniform designs providing a classic line in the church. Later these were replaced by benches but as you can see examples of them still exist to this day.

Whilst I was in the church I was allowed to photograph the old bible that you can see in the glass case. It felt brittle and I was conscious that I was handling something really old. Flash photography wasn’t allowed so I had to rely on the natural light in the church.

The Bible

Let me take you back to the churchyard where I found this stone. There’s no name on the stone as you can see from the first line and later the inscription goes on to say

Where I was born or bred it matters not
From whom descended or of whom begot
I was but am not ask nomore of me
It’s all I am and all that you shall be

Anonymous Grave

Well that’s it for this week. As usual you are free to use any of the photographs on my blog as long as you abide by the licensing terms which you can find from the menu at the top of the page. In essence you can use them as long as it’s not for commercial use and that you credit me as the photographer, but read the license terms for full conditions

Araneus Diadematus

I’m still experimenting with the Olympus and it’s extensive menu and  yesterday I found this feature called Digital Teleconverter which seems to add a 2x magnification to any lens you use. So where better to try it than my garden and the numerous spiders that seem to be inhabiting many parts of it.

Spider, Spider

This is a female Garden Spider, Araneus Diadematus, which spins orb webs across pathways, between trees and shrubs. It has a distinctive cross mark on the abdomen and because of this it is sometimes it is called the “Cross Spider”. Can you see why? An adult female can grow to about 15mm (body length) and this makes it one of the largest of our spiders. Males by comparison are much smaller at about 9mm. For those who don’t use metric 15mm is slightly larger than half an inch. At this time of the year they are common in British gardens, I have five that I know about, but, by November there will be none as the first frost kills them.

Anyway, back to this Digital Teleconverter. I’ve never been a fan of digital zoom but this seems to be different. The image is sharp, there’s a great depth of field, over nearly all of the spider. The background is blurred, isolating the spider in all of it’s glory. I could see myself using this again for close-up work.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Humanity

Humanity! I knew I was going to have trouble with this one right from the start. I don’t photograph people, well rarely, and it’s usually more a case of them being in the frame by accident, rather than me deliberately putting them there. Looking back through my back catalogue I did find this one from 2011.


So what’s the story? I wish I knew. I was at an air-show, mad pilots were doing what mad pilots do with aircraft. Everyone was saying Ooh! and Aah!, well almost everyone. The photographers like me weren’t and neither was this guy. He was in his own world, not looking at the aircraft. Maybe he was an ex-pilot, dreaming of days long gone. Maybe he just hated flying? Who knows?

But he looked interesting and I guiltily snapped this photograph. I felt I was intruding, even although he didn’t notice me…but that’s why I rarely photograph people.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Adventure

I’ve been on Anglesey all week, mainly to take a short break from it all. The Olympus was with me but photography wasn’t the priority; taking it easy as well as exploring was. Although I’ve been to Penmon Point and the lighthouse my wife never has so Monday we paid a little visit. As you can see not great weather but I was lucky to capture this little boat rounding the lighthouse on it’s way through the Menai Strait  which separates the island of Anglesey from the mainland of Wales.

Penmon Point

About 25 km (16 miles) long the shallow strait is influenced by the tides which cause very strong currents to flow in both directions through the strait at different times, creating dangerous conditions. The “Swellies” is considered to be the most dangerous area of the strait and this is located roughly between the two bridges that join Anglesey to mainland Wales. In this area rocks near the surface cause over-falls and local whirlpools, which can be of considerable danger in themselves and cause small boats to founder on the rocks.

The strait varies in width from 400 metres (1,300 feet) to 1,100 metres (3,600 feet), narrowing in the middle to about 500 metres (1,600 feet). Stand on the hills above the strait at the Swellies and you will see different current flows and whirlpools all moving fast roughly about 4.8 knots when the tide is flowing. The effect of the tide approaching from the south-west cause the water to flow north-eastwards as the levels rise. But that same tide flows right around Anglesey and several hours later it starts to flow into the strait from the opposite end. The tide continues to rise in height but the current flow is reversed through the strait.

Map picture

For sailors who do not wish the long journey round Anglesey passage through the strait is the only answer. But there is danger if the passage is not done at the right time. As Sailing Almanac explains;

The flood enters the Menai Straits initially at the southern end at Caernarfon and quite some time before it enters through the north at Puffin Island – at times 6 hours out of phase and with a tidal difference of almost a metre. This means there’s a virtual moving waterfall as the water chases itself in and out of the Straits. It also means that HW and Slack Water do not coincide, however in order to traverse the Straits, especially through the Swellies, we need to know where this area of slack water is moving. Thanks to the magnificent studies made by the Oceanographic Dept of Bangor University we can plot the moving schedule of this slack water relative to HW Liverpool, as if like a bus time table. At various points along the Straits, we need to catch this movement of slack water in order to traverse the Straits, perhaps even with just a knot of tide in our favour. Any more, is a recipe for trouble.

And that to me seems like an Adventure. I hope you agree?