Weekly Photo Challenge: Twinkle

Normally at this time of the year I visit Saint Asaph Cathedral in North Wales to photograph the Christmas Tree. It’s a very large tree positioned just before the entrance to the Choir and twinkles with lots of Christmas lights. This year is no exception but there’s no tree. Just a small one in the corner of the cathedral, almost tucked away out of sight. To say I’m disappointed is an understatement. So I’ve decided to use one from a previous Christmas visit to the Cathedral which I’m sure will fit the challenge this week.

Christmas from the Cathedral at St Asaph

Whilst I was in the cathedral I took the opportunity to try out some ideas incorporating the lights in the Choir Stalls and whilst I was doing so spotted something I wasn’t expecting to see. In fact I’m amazed I haven’t spotted it before because I have stood in the same spot loads of times taking photographs. What am I talking about?

Cathedral Lights

There’s graffiti carved into the wood. Mainly initials, probably of choir boys. I say boys because traditionally in the past Church and Cathedral Choirs were made up of boys and adult males.

The use of choirboys in Christian liturgical music can be traced back to pre-Christian times. Saint Paul’s dictum that “women should be silent in churches” (mulieres in ecclesiis taceant) resonated with this largely patriarchal tradition; the development of vocal polyphony from the Middle Ages through the Renaissance and Baroque thus took place largely, though not exclusively, in the context of the all-male choir, in which all voice parts were sung by men and boys. – Source Wikipedia

That set me wondering. How long ago were the carvings done? It’s not recent, because nowadays there are cameras installed in the Cathedral for security purposes, so it is likely that no one would chance carving the wood now. But there again the carvings are not ancient as the writing looks modern. In the end we are left with a mystery – a sort of “Whodunnit” but without an ending.

Topaz Glow

Over the last month I have been beta testing a new product from Topaz Labs called Glow. The software works either as a standalone program or as a plugin for Lightroom or Photoshop. Topaz Glow uses fractals to get some interesting results, very similar to Redfield Fractalius. Topaz have released a short product video showing the interface along with some before and after photographs.

I’m sure over the next few days there will be plenty of tutorials released so I’m just going to show you some of the results I achieved using Topaz Glow.

Electric Sky

Glow is not one of those plugins I would use on every photograph. I’m more likely to use it when I am creating some digital artwork and I want to bring in an electric sort of look. Topaz Glow has lots of ready-made presets that you can just click and apply but my personal method is to choose a preset and then adjust the sliders to get more of the look I want.

Engine Bay

Like this engine bay from a Ford. I still wanted to maintain a lot of the detail and by adjusting the opacity and blend modes of Topaz Glow directly in the plugin or standalone program I’m able to get the look I want. Similarly in the photograph below I used blending an opacity levels along with fine tuning the preset to maintain the ripples in the sand but add a bit of light and texture

Purple Haze

Applied carefully you can get a painterly look to your photograph. look at this one of a blue tit sitting on a branch.

Glow-Tit

Admittedly Topaz already have a paint plugin called Impressions but I quite like the effect that Glow brings to this photograph. The tree below is so simple but Topaz Glow has added just that little bit of texture

Tree

Disclaimer: I have been a beta tester for Topaz products for well over a year now and as such I am give copies of the software for testing which has often resulted in my receiving a free license when the product is brought to market.

Converge – It’s In The Lines

This weeks challenge is to submit a photograph where objects converge. It could be people, lines in architecture, or maybe a road disappearing into the distance. The cloisters at Paisley Abbey in Scotland fits into this category. Don’t you think?

Regular readers will have noticed that I have changed the blog theme for Say It With A Camera. This is prompted by the fact that I am now hosting my blog photographs on 500px as a result of an announcement by Yahoo who own Flickr that they were going to start selling Creative Commons Licensed photographs. Admittedly they say it will not affect CC licensed as Non-Commercial but going on past performance I’m not so sure. If anyone is going to monetize my photographs it will be me and that is why with regret I have to announce that from today any future photographs that appear on Say It With A Camera will no longer have a Creative Commons License. Instead they will be Copyright ©Mike Hardisty 2014 – All Rights Reserved. I have not taken this step lightly, and to be honest I have been considering it for some time. I suppose I just needed this push to get me going.

When I first started as a photographer I always maintained the copyright of my photographs. In later years I found it was difficult to chase up illegal use of my photographs, and there were lots. In some cases I used DMCA Take Down quite successfully, in others I had to threaten legal action, all time-consuming. I’d rather be out taking photographs so I made the decision to change the licensing of my photographs to Creative Commons, Attribution, Non-Commercial. In the last year though I have sold several photographs privately and been paid for my work with the Sacred Doorways project. This has made me realise that my work could be commercially viable. Maybe not in vast numbers but the odd commission wouldn’t go amiss.

Of course I am still open to free licensing options. The difference is that now permission must be sought and I will consider it on a case by case basis.

I would love to hear thoughts on this, good or bad, so please let me know.

Sunset on Ffrith Beach – North Wales

This is a really quick post but I just wanted to share with you the beautiful sunset we were lucky to watch tonight. At first I didn’t think it was going to be all that good. Yes, there were some nice cloud formations but the sun had already dropped behind Snowdon and the sky just wasn’t colouring up at all. Don’t get me wrong. I quite like this photograph but it could do with a bit more colour in the sky.

Ffrith Beach

But long experience of sunset photography has taught me to wait around a while, sometimes Mother Nature saves her best for when the tourists have gone, and tonight was no exception. The photograph above was taken at 16:54, but look what happens to the sky 20 minutes later at 17:15.

Sunset on the Ffrith

Mother nature at her best and one of the best sunsets I’ve seen in a long time.. The moral of the story, hang around after the sunset, sometimes you will see something so much better.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Angular

This weeks photography challenge is Angular and straight away I knew I was going to include this photograph in my post.

Talacre Lighthouse

I took this photograph on Saturday evening, only yesterday, on the beach at Talacre. Regular readers will know that the lighthouse features in many of my photographs and I’ll tell you why. The lighthouse is the only constant and even that changes over time as the paint is worn away by wind and waves. Talacre beach is open and exposed and often subject to wild seas. This photograph was taken at low tide and at the moment you can see the lighthouse base. But when the tide comes in the sea rises as high as the painted black area and in stormy conditions higher. Those sand dunes you can see in the background used to be a lot higher but storms at the beginning of this year totally washed them away.

Photographs testify to the relentless effacements of time. I say “inevitably” because the photographer has little to say about it. No matter what the conceptual intent of the photographer – whether it be “serious” image-making or family snapshots – the camera renders, first and foremost, and with indisputable sufficiency, the details and lineaments of its subject: a smooth, fresh, laughing face, the sleek angularity of a new building, a dotted veil worn by a woman coming out of church. Years later – when the young face is wrinkled and the modern building looks corny and nobody wears veils anymore – these photographs tell a story. And who could have guessed what that story would be? The melancholy of Time inheres in photographs, in the resemblance that no longer resembles. – John Rosenthal – Ideas, from The National Humanities Center

And so that brings me nicely back to Angular. I said at the start of this post I was going to include this photograph because it has so many angles. Yes! The lighthouse does lean, that big dark cloud with the obtuse angle and the way the water creates angles as it courses down the beach towards the sea. I did however keep the horizon straight. Can you see the man on the beach? He was using one of those portable metal detectors and finding quite a lot of things, mainly old coins and some shrapnel left over from WWII.

“Talacre was used by the military during World War II, as an aircraft firing range. Fighters flew over the remote village every day, shooting at wooden targets in the dunes and at drogues towed by aircraft. It was also used for testing new devices, such as “window” the anti-radar foil that, on occasion, covered the whole village with silver”. Source Wikipedia

That wraps it up for this week. I hope you enjoyed the photograph and as usual please feel free to use it if you want as long as it’s not for commercial use. Clicking on the photograph will take you to my Flickr stream where you can download any of the 1200 pixels wide photographs.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Achievement

I’ve had lots of achievements in my life. Leaving home at 17 to follow my chosen career path and being successful at it, meeting my wife, we’re still together after nearly 40 years, my sons and other things through the years that I could think of as achievements. But this is a blog about my photography so I suppose I should include some achievements from that box of magic tricks that I hold in my hand, now and again.

Over the years I have experimented with different styles of photography, but in the end I always come back to HDR. Some people hate it, some absolutely love it but for me it has opened up a world of light and shade that I couldn’t achieve SOOC. It’s taken me years but nowadays I’m happy with “my style and look” and to me that is an achievement in itself.

Rusty Gate

Now I never show you a photograph that’s come straight from the HDR software, there’s always a certain amount of post processing to do, usually a slight amount of colour adjustment and sharpening.

there is still far too much of the sort of work that can be seen for nothing in the shop-window, not to mention one or two examples of “retouching” which can only be compared to the pipes and moustaches with which portraits of the sovereigns of England get decorated in school histories…. Retouching claims to be an art within an art; and doubtless it is so in much the same way that conjuring as applied to table-turning is an art within an art. All the more reason for it to be artistically done. It ought, however, to be excluded from a photographic exhibition, on the simple grounds that it is not photography… – George Bernard Shaw – commenting in a newspaper (17 October 1888)

I wonder what George would say today? Come to think of it. What’s your view on retouching? Are you straight out of the camera (SOOC)? Or maybe you’re a Photoshop or Lightroom Wizard. I’d love to get your views.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Minimalist

Oh my! Oh my! Another one of those WordPress Photo Challenge themes that is so open to interpretation. I mean what makes a photograph fall into the minimalist genre? Look on the web and you will see hundreds of definitions for minimalism, many of them similar, but some at the opposite ends of the spectrum/ Who’s to say which one is right. As a primarily landscape photographer can I practice Minimalism in my art? Up until now I’ve never thought about it but I would almost go as far as saying no. Landscapes are too rich in detail to be minimalist, or are they?

The Beach

Way back in 2007 I took this photograph on our local beach. It was at a time when I was really starting to experiment with my photography. I’d moved from a little Point and Shoot camera to a more expensive bridge camera which mimicked a DSLR except for the ability to change lenses. I took this photograph because I liked the leading line of the posts and the reflections on the wet sand after the tide had gone out. Did I think about it being Minimalist? No. Is it Minimalist? You tell me. “Say It With A Camera” has 2314 followers and I would hazard a guess that if everyone replied to my question “Is it Minimalist” I would probably get a 50/50 split.

 

My Photograph, My Vision

Over the years I have played with various plugins for Photoshop and Lightroom but I always return to the offerings from Topaz Labs. In fact I would go so far as saying 99% of the photographs I have taken this year and featured on Flickr, Facebook, Google+ or either of my blogs has had some input from at least one of the Topaz Plugins. Clarity is my goto plugin mainly because it adds that extra bit of punch and depth to a photograph.

Talacre Sunset Original

This is an old photograph. I took it in June 2013 long before the winter storms of 2013/2014 destroyed the sand dunes at Talacre. If you were to visit Talacre today you would not see these stones, they are buried under all the sand that formed the dunes, which now forms a massive sand bar on the beach. Maybe some day we will see them again but not in the near future as conservationists reckon it will take 15 to 20 years for the dunes to reform, and that can only happen with the action of the wind and tides. Yet Talacre is one of those places I like to photograph, especially in the winter, as we now get pools of water forming on the beach when the tide goes out. Due to the action of the tides it’s an ever-changing landscape with one constant, the lighthouse. Each day can present a similar theme but a different photograph and those pools of water are fantastic for getting a photograph with the reflection of the lighthouse and clouds. What about you? Do you have a favourite place you visit again and again?

Anyway back to the photograph. The original sunset was dull and flat. Talacre Lighthouse does lean to one side, quite markedly but a wide angle lens accentuates the lean even more causing perspective distortion..

My first step was to correct the distortion using the Lens Correction Filter in Photoshop (Filter, Lens Correction, Custom, Vertical Perspective). Fortunately I didn’t need to straighten the Horizon, but that can also be done with the Lens Correction Filter. Now to get some punch into the photograph and the best way to do that is to add some contrast. For me the best tool is Topaz Clarity. Sure you can add contrast in Photoshop but I find that it tends to blow out the highlights or deepen the shadows too much. Clarity gives me better control of how I add that contrast whilst still keeping the photograph looking natural.

Talacre Sunset

Now this is where I know some of you will say he’s gone over the top and you may be right, but hey “it’s my photograph, my vision”. When I took the original photograph the sun was setting. I remember the sky being more orange than what the photograph at the top shows and I want to get it looking like that sunset I remember. The Purists will gasp in horror but I’m about to invoke another good plugin from Topaz Labs called ReStyle. It’s hard to describe exactly what ReStyle does but with about 1000 effects in it’s arsenal it’s the plugin I use when I want to fine tune the colour in an image. You could almost say it’s like Instagram on steroids but with far more control.

So there you have it. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Do you use Topaz Products? Have I gone too far?

Disclaimer: Although I am endorsing products from Topaz Labs I do not get paid for doing so. I am however a beta tester for new Topaz plugins which has allowed me to receive a free license for several of these plugins.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Descent

How many times have I said “no photograph is worth taking chances for”? Yet today I broke my golden rule and paid the price for it. This weeks challenge is to show our interpretation of descent and I can do that in more ways than one.

Llanberis Pass

The Llanberis Pass descends from Pen-y-Pass to Llanberis and flowing down through the pass for about 6km is the Afon Nant Peris which has it’s source at Pen-y-Pass (359m) and finally ends at Llyn Peris (105m). And this is where I broke my golden rule. Stupidly I decided to step onto some rocks to get a better view down the river before taking another photograph. I slipped, straight down, flat on my face, my camera came up to hit my sunglasses, forcing them into my eye area. Fortunately my camera seems fine, but I have a bruise the size of an egg and the best shade of eye-shadow a man could ever want.

Bruise

Not pretty at all. I’m sore all over and all because I was stupid enough to break my own golden rule. So there you have it……descent in more ways than one.

It’s Halloween

Depends where you live in the world you might have a different name for tonight’s fun and games. Round our way we don’t have any of the “little darlings” banging on our door and squealing “Trick or Treat”. I think the trick I played on them a couple of years back has scared them all off. Anyway to celebrate I thought I’d show you some pieces I have created over the years for posts about Halloween or ghouls and ghosties.

First up is this piece I created with a mixture of Photoshop Brushes and a photograph of the moon.

moonlit_blog2

I really would like to credit the creators of the brushes but this piece from my archive is so old that I have long since forgotten where they came from.

The next piece I would like to show you is my old friend the red monk. I have used him in several digital art works and my thanks goes to Marcus J Ranum for allowing the use of his extensive stock collection of models. His works are available from Deviantart but you do need to be logged in to view them.

Monk

It is a bit dark this one but that’s how I wanted it, with just the highlights on the monks face and belt.

It’s time to play a game of chess and I hope you will join my next friend. But don’t lose…it could be the death of you. Once again I am indebted to Mr Ranum for the use of the model. The room is a stock photograph from Fotolia and is one of a series of twenty-five that I was allowed to download for free when I bought a version of Corel PhotoPaint a long time back. I specifically chose rooms as they are always good for use in Digital Art.

grunge industrial background

Another brush artwork coming up. Once again from a long time ago but I do remember that the background was made from  a set of Galaxy Brushes by the very talented Sunira. As to the rest I am not sure but if you happen to view this and recognise your brush sets let me know and I will credit you.

graveyard_blog2

One more to go. The background of the trees is from one of my photographs. Lightning and birds are brushes. The young lady is from the stock collection of Persephonestock on Deviantart and I think she is called Miranda

Girl

That’s it from me. I hope you enjoyed this series of digital artwork. Please feel free to use them in any way you like as long as it’s not for commercial purposes.