2015 – The Kelpies

The Kelpies are sculptures found at The Helix, Falkirk.

The two giant horses heads, sculptures by Andy Scott, stand about 30 meters tall and weighs approximately 300 tonnes.
More information on the Kelpies can be found at The Helix website

For such large items, they are pretty difficult to take photo’s of. The area is a photographers night mare – but a clone tool users dream!

Everywhere you look, there is something detracting in the image, from overhead high-tension transmission lines, to motorway signs, to vomit-ugly buildings.

It’s only after getting home and looking at the images subjectively, I realised just how emotionally detached I am from them. I have no compulsion to  spend  hours cloning out power lines and ugly builds, and I take my hat off to people that do. And as for finding a new angle to shoot them from … well, mights as well bark at the moon.

This isn’t to say that there is anything wrong with them, it’s just from my point of view, their just there. I don’t think I would be too upset if I didn’t photograph them again.

I shot both sculptures from different angles, and these are the shots that I am happy with; both are very tight in-camera crops – to get rid of the background clutter – and both have had minimal post production work

2015 – April – Becky

I wanted to tryout my homemade beauty-dish prior to a shoot I have next month.

Becky, my beautiful eldest daughter volunteered – ok, was press ganged – in to coming out and standing in front of the lens.

2015 – April: night time

I thought that I would take the Canon out for a spin; I also wanted to see how the Sony to Canon adapter worked in the darkness.

Neither of us we particularly healthy, so we just stayed local – Abercorn.

Abercorn is a beautiful little hamlet, boarding the grounds of Hopetoun House, and has access to the Firth of Forth.

It’s also a great place, with a long enough lens, to shoot the bridge construction

North Bridge Pier
North Bridge Pier

We then went back to the church and did some more traditional night stuff …

 

Abercorn Church
Abercorn Church

There was a really bright full moon, and this was the only light source for the above image

2015 – March – Alternative Lighting

There was some major sun-spot activity, and increased sun-spots means an increase in the Northern Lights activity.

There had been solar-storm warnings, and this was expected to make the Lights visible as far south as Estonia.
So, armed with camera and tripod, off I went.

I didn’t go far, as the fog had come in, and the sky was 100% cloud.
So I shot this instead …

Misty night
Misty night

 

Staying local, there is a large old Scots Pine (if it wasn’t for the fog you could see it in the image above) near me that I’ve been wanting to shoot for a while … but make it different.

No cloud, no moon … hmm why not.

Off I trundled, camera, tripod and timer in hand and shot some star trails over the top of the tree.

This is 60 x 30 second images that have been layered together to show the motion of the Earth. I could have done this as one exposure, however the amount of light pollution would have meant a really rubbish image.

Dedrige Monarch
Dedrige Monarch

The Milky Way over the top of this tree would be a great shot, but unless there is a power cut that affects the entire central Scotland belt, I don’t think it’s going to realistically happen.

 

2015 – March …. Canon Time!

So, I’ve got my new Canon and I thought I’d try it out.
Kinda silly not to really.

Reacher was playing with his toy … a difficult grab shot as I’ve got one end of the toy in his hand, and trying to keep enough distance for the minimum focus length

Reacher
Reacher

Iain was sitting having a cuddle with his mum … couldn’t resist this

Iain
Iain

 

2015 – March. A new month and a new Dawn

I’ve jumped ship.

Changed allegiance.

Become a turncoat.

Become one of them.

 

I started photography in 2009 (I think) and at the time I was wandering lonely as a cloud, through the local branch of Jessops, when a member of staff happened to see me (these were the days when Jessops had more than 2 members of staff, including the back-office guy that just used to handle the printing machine), and took me through the sales patter.
In hindsight, I guess that week was “Sony sales are slipping, we need to focus on them” week, because that’s where the sales focus was … on Sony.

Once established that my pockets did indeed have a finite bottom, the deal was done and a few days later I returned to the shop to collect my prize … a matt-black A300.

 

I’m not going to know the A300 as once you get over the Sony pitfalls, it’s not a bad little entry level DSLR – and the tilting Live-View screen is pretty damn good too.

 

Over the course of the next few years, I discovered more about the Sony pitfalls as I found I had to invest in mediocre 3rd party gear, just to be able to take the photos that I wanted to take.

By the time I was ready to move on, I’d already spent a reasonable amount of hard earned money on lenses, adapters and other sundries … so I had to stick to Sony.

 

I scrapped the pennies from the bottom of the sofa (don’t tell my wife as I told her there was nothing there), and purchased an A700.
The A700 is several rungs up the Sony evolution ladder to the A300 – except that it didn’t have Live-View, which at the time I thought I could do without. Bigger body, better ergonomics, better weight, battery grip made by Sony instead of 3rd party only. A reasonable and decent camera, but let down by the Sony pitfalls.

 

Eventually, I purchased an A65, which is an SLT – it has a translucent mirror that stays in position, rather than a mirror that is lifted when you hit the shoot button – and an Electronic View Finder (EVF), and a few other toys. In some respects it was an upgrade to the A700, in others it was at the same level. But it still suffers from the Sony pitfalls …

The Sony pitfalls.

 

In my opinion, the Sony Alpha range suffers from the following

  • Poor choice of genuine Sony accessories
  • That damn Miniolta inverted hotshoe

There are probably many others, but these are the ones that had the greatest impact on me.

 

At the time, Sony did not make an intervelopmeter – which is a must for any kind of timelapse photography or astrophotography, you had to get 3rd party ones

Sony did not make radio triggers, so if you wanted to fire remote Strobist flashes outdoors in bright light, or outside of a set angle that the IR could see, or even out of the range of the IR … tough

Sony battery grips are not standard through the range – out of the 3 cameras I own, I can only get a Sony battery grip for the A700. Battery grips have a twofold benefit – they give you twice the amount of battery life (as there is two batteries) without interruption to what you are doing, and they normally provide additional controls for when you are shooting in portrait orientation (they normally have a duplicated shutter button which in effect, keeps the shutter button in the ‘normal’ place). Strangely, I was able to get a 3rd party grip for the A300, a Sony one for the A700, but the A65 was not built to accept a battery grip – you can’t remove the battery cover.
OK, on the scale of things, minor irritations, but irritations no less.

 

Then there is the biggy.

The Mother of all Things Unreasonable and Difficult.

 

Avid reader, I give you the Minolta Hotshoe.

When Sony took over Minolta cameras, they kept the lens fit (fair enough) and the inverted hotshoe (Nooooooooooooooo).

On the face of things, the inverted hotshoe seems like a minor irritation … until you come to

Buy a flash.

Or a radio / IR trigger.

Or a hotshoe spirit level.
Or mount a flash to a standard Strobist softbox

 

Most other cameras will accept any flash with a ‘standard’ hotshoe; it may not talk to the camera i.e. for ETTL, however it’ll go off when you hit the shoot button. Try that with the Minolta hotshoe …

 

There is a wide range of radio / IR triggers out there. However, only a very few make them with the inverted hotshoe.
A hotshoe spirit level is a wee little sprit level that sits on top of your camera as a levelling guide. Hundreds out there … again very few make them for the inverted hotshoe.

There is an answer to the inverted hotshoe: an adapter.
These convert the inverted hotshoe to a standard one, and they can be live (as it will carry a trigger signal through it from the camera to the device) or dumb (just a block of metal or plastic).
Are they made by Sony?

Nope.
3rd party only
These are a cracking little thing, and without them I wouldn’t have been able to shoot as much as I did.
They are not without their pit falls though … reliability and height. Manufacturing can be poor so contacts can be unreliable, and they add additional height on to whatever you have connected. A spirit level isn’t an issue, but a full sized flash unit is as they can become unstable, especially if the manufacturer tolerances have been a bit generous.

You also then need an adapted to mount the flash on standard Strobist kit, as this tends to come with standard hotshoe mounting. Again this causes problems with height and reliability.

You can’t use 3rd party radio triggers with the Sony flashes – the flash as a little lever that when depressed, prevents the unit from working. Any adapter has to have a groove machined in to accommodate this lever. Good luck finding that first time. I never have. (I ended up using Yongu flashes – not eTTL, but radio triggering is more important to me than eTTL)

It’s such a little thing, and on the face of it, it seems like it’s not a major issue.

Try it yourself for a few months and see how frustrating it is, not being able to fire a studio flash head as you have forgotten your adapter … or you’ve borrowed a friend’s Strobist softbox and you can’t mount your flash …

I brought the A65 as I wanted to upgrade from the A700, and as Sony was edging towards an exclusive SLT / EVF, and as one popped up at an acceptable price, I thought I’d give it a go.
It’s not bad  … although it’s not totally brilliant either.
It’s still got the inverted hotshoe, so all my existing Strobist kit still worked; it has a digital spirit level (a basic one, but better than nothing),  Live View on a flip and rotate mount and video. Loads of software tricks – that didn’t work in RAW, so I never used them.
I’m not bothered about video, so I didn’t really use it, but from the few bits I shot, it was OK.

I have a Manfrotto tripod. I found that the width of the camera prevented the Live-View screen from being flipped down; if you mounted the camera on the tripod and then realised that the screen was facing the wrong way i.e. inwards, you needed to completely de-mount the camera to turn it. This also caused problems when the camera was mounted in portrait orientation as you could not flip the screen out to 90 degrees.  Minor niggle, and one that you work around.

 

As mentioned before, no battery grip – which would have given enough height to get over the screen fouling – not to mention give better shoot life and make holding the thing easier. I’ve got mid-sized shovels as hands and I found I was always rubbing the back of my fingers against the lens as there is no real grip on the camera.

The SLT wasn’t too bad. I didn’t really notice much of a difference in operation.

The Electronic View Finder – EVF – now me and it didn’t really get on too well. The screen was noisy, even in bright light which could make focusing a bit of a challenge. Being EVF, it was not straight through the lens, so you saw what the finished image would be. The downside to this was that it meant that if you were shooting at f9 125sec ISO 100 in a studio, it would be unlikely that you could see anything without changing a setting, and thus affecting the end shot. You could turn this option off in the camera menu, and the camera would then automatically brighten the EVF image, but there was no warning displayed anywhere to say you had done this. I’d forgotten I’d done this several times and ended up missing shots.

Now after all this time, I’ve got used to the little quirks and irritations and have a plethora of adaptors etc.

So why would I jump ship?

The new Sony’s have a standard hotshoe.

This means that if I want to upgraded my DLSR, I would need to buy new flashes, and as I have inverted hotshoe triggers, new triggers.

I have a few of these flashes, and they are not cheap … to replace all of them would be the cost of another body, or a decent lens.

So I decided that if I have no choice but to replace a shed load of kit when I want to upgrade, then I might as well start again.

So I have.

 

I am now the happy owner of a Canon 7d.

The Yongu flashes are quite happy to work off the Canon as all I had to do was replace the transmitter unit for the radio triggers. And as the RX units already had standard hotshoe mounts, I don’t have to worry about them fitting on any other kit.
I needed to replace the intervalometer too, however a tenner from Amazon sorted that. I’ve also brought an Android app to control the camera from my phone or tablet through USB (am currently thinking about a wifi adapter and card).
Once you get over the cost of the body, lens and battery grip, it’s been cheaper for me to go to a better performing, better supported camera from a different brand, than to upgrade my Sony.

Note:
The above is based on my own personal experiences. On the whole, the Sony cameras have been pretty damn good, however for me, over time, the small niggles and difficulties have just become too much. Oh, that coupled with the hotshoe change.

2014 – December – The Dancers

Simon and I were asked to shoot some shots of three dancers for their portfolios.

It was a nice day in West Lothian, the sun was out, the sky was blue, but it was still pretty chilly.

A lot of fun was had by all on this shoot, and I look forwards to shooting dancers again.

2015 February – re-discovering and NSFW

I cant help revisiting this shoot with Chrissy last year.
Every shoot with Chrissy is an enjoyable and productive experience.

There’s still plenty more to give from this shoot, and I’m slowly working my way through it.

Follow Me
Follow Me
Wind farm
Prone
I was going to call this “Scottish Sunbathing”, but as its not raining, I don’t think I can
Remembering Heather
Remembering Heather

 

This is also the first time I’ve used my old, re-vamped desktop to edit (and the first time I’ve been able to use Silver Efex as it won’t run on my laptop. Must need RAM on then graphics card or something); more than happy with the hardware, jury is out on the software.

 

2015 – February – The Dragonfly and the Troublemaker

While walking the dog, I discovered that last nights mist was still lingering. So, what with it being Valentines Day, and being the hopeless romantic that I am …

I left the wife with the kids and went out for a bit with the camera down to the local pond (I’ve been here many times before, just search Dedridge Pond in the tag cloud) for a bit of dissapearing-in-to-the-mist-type stuff.

Needless to say, by the time I got back, the mist had all but vanished, but the shitty, low-laying grey cloud remained.
Not being the kind of chap that allows a bit of freedom to pass unchecked, I hung around and got these instead …

Branches overhanging the pond.  If you look really close, you can see the droplets of water on each twig. Careful! Don't bump your nose on the monitor looking
Branches overhanging the pond.
If you look really close, you can see the droplets of water on each twig.
Careful! Don’t bump your nose on the monitor looking
This chap was just so casual about things, it was a class act. As he hobbled by, he threw a load of bread into the water ... and he kept walking, not giving a rats arse about the cacophony of noise and near riots it caused. Cool beans, dude, cool beans
This chap was just so casual about things, it was a class act.
As he hobbled by, he threw a load of bread into the water … and he kept walking, not giving a rats arse about the cacophony of noise and near riots it caused.
Cool beans, dude, cool beans

2015 – February – Night time … The SuperLight Highway

Simon and I went out to a local woods in the dark  to mess around a bit.

OK, let me re-phrase that in a slightly less innuendo kinda way.

Simon and I grabbed our camera kit and went off in to a local woods for a bit of night-time experimentation using a couple of lighting rigs I had lovingly fashioned out of bits and bobs and loads of sticky tape (I got mine before the rush to B&Q following the release of a certain film).

There was plenty of atmospherics about – low grey cloud reflecting the street lights and a mist / fog that was thick enough to be a pain, but not thick enough to be useful – with it being a really moist night.

We parked up – for once not in the local dogging hotspot -, grabbed our kit and off we jolly well went.

After a bit of the normal fannying about the photographers do in the dark we eventually came upon a plan, and set forth realising the dream.

This is my final image, and Simon’s image can be found by clicking here

SuperLight Highway
SuperLight Highway

 

 

How the Superlight Highway was made

The Superlight Highway is a composite image of 5 different shots taken with the camera on a tripod and not moved during each shot.

Composite images tend to work better if you have an idea in mind – this means that all the component parts will drop together in the frame without any major issues.

Simon and I were essentially shooting the same shot, but if you look at Simon’s you’ll see he has a different image, caused by locating his camera in a different place to mine. This means that we can share each others lighting ideas and methodologies, but we get different images.

So, I’ve shot my images, banged them in to Lightroom (keyworded them as I’m getting better at using LR) now what?

I’m not the worlds best post-processor, far from it, and there are many different ways to do the same thing – and what I like someone else may not. I’m not telling you what you should do; I’m saying what did.

I opened the base layer in Photoshop as a smart object:

Blue and red - base layer
Blue and Red – Base Layer

The I opened the smart object in Adobe Camera RAW

Opened in ACR
Opened in ACR

and messed around a bit with the colour sliders as I didn’t want all the same colours

Then I opened the middle section in to Photoshop, which I left in the original blue colour

The Blue Layer - as shot
The Blue Layer – as shot

This was then Select All > Copy and Pasted as new layer above the Base layer
I then messed around with the blending options until I found the one I liked the best

I mucked around with the final layer to get the colour that I wanted,

This was Dark Blue too
This was Dark Blue too

and then added that as a layer above the other two, and once again, mucked around with the blending options until I found the one I wanted.

That just left me with 4 bars of colour, and a black(ish) background with loads of light bleed.

So … say hello to Halogen …

Halogen makes it's appearance
Halogen makes it’s appearance

This was added to the layers and the blend mode changed … again to one that I liked

I was then left with an image that was a bit too light, so introducing …. CREE LED …

Star of the background, it's CREE LED
Star of the background, it’s CREE LED

Again, this was added to the top of the stack and the blending mode played with a bit.

I played around with the opacity of both the Halogen and CREE LED layers after the blending modes to try to get the right balance between the two colours of light and the shadows …

The finished Photoshop stack looks like this:

Taa Daa ...
Taa Daa …

You can see that a layer mask has been added to the Dark Blue layer … this was because there is a lot of light bleed in the dark blue, which I believe is due to the moisture in the air. I just tided it up a bit by painting the layer below through.
I also added a Brightness Contrast layer, and upped the contrast a touch.

Compositing an image doesn’t need to be hard work – there is very little brush work here, it’s all just messing around with blending modes and opacities.

Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.