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    Hello, and welcome to my website! I'm Derek Gale, photography trainer and Fine Art photographer.

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“Everywhere you go, always take the weather with you.”

Last week I led a photography holiday in Brecon, Wales, for HF Holidays.  I had been checking the weather forecast for the week and had been a little bit apprehensive about how we might be affected.  There was rain forecast, and heavy rain at that.  I had a fallback position, but there’s only so much you can do with churches and tea shops.

One place we were going to was the Sgwd Gladwys waterfall on the Afon Pyrddin near Pontneddfechan.  Some people who had been there the day before said it was pretty but was just a trickle.  Luckily for us it rained, hard, overnight the day we were due to be there.  The river was raging and the waterfall was fabulous.  It cried out for a long exposure so I got out my tripod, my 10-stop ND filter and used an 8-second exposure on my EM10 mk3.  I’ve bumped up the contrast and converted to black and white in Photoshop.

The following day we were at Nash Point on the Glamorgan Heritage coast.  Again rain was threatened, but the best bit of weather we had was the strong onshore wind.  It was bringing big waves into the beach and they were crashing over the rocks at the base of the cliffs.   I’ve used a 50/50 sky/sea composition in this mobile phone shot.  It’s said that a 50/50 landscape like this hasn’t got good composition, but the cliff mass on the right-hand side balances the whole thing to my mind.

On the last day we were at a red kite feeding centre.  These birds are now very common in some areas of England and Wales after a hugely successful reintroduction programme.  In a crowd of over 70 birds it’s hard to follow an individual bird as it swoops down to get the food, but sometimes you can be lucky with the shapes two birds make in the sky.  The weather was fabulous!  The rain had cleared the air and the mixture of clouds and blue sky gave a good neutral background to the birds.  I needed to use a bit of positive exposure compensation to get the exposure right.  I think one was impersonating a kestrel and the other a vulture.

I was worried about the weather but the heavy rain and strong wind made the images better.

A steam-powered gin palace!

I recently led another photography holiday for HF Holidays.  One of the places we visited was the Shropshire town of Bridgnorth.  It’s famous for having a heritage railway line; the Severn Valley Railway.  Like every tourist attraction they are always thinking of new ways to attract people.  On the day we were there the “Gin Train” was about to leave.  It had a special dining car carriage, and The Little Gin Company was running a gin tasting trip.  This sort of event just cries out for a story to be told in a series of images rather than just one image.

The first stage of the trip was checking in.  Everyone there had made a special effort to look smart, and they were clearly looking forward to the trip.  The back and white conversion allows us to concentrate on the faces and expressions rather than being distracted by any bright colours.

In the dining car kitchen some gins had already been set up for the tasting.  I grabbed a shot through the open window just before the train left.  I was so pleased than just one glass was facing me, as it simplified the image.

I ran round the a footpath on the other side of the tracks to get the train leaving.  It was an eight carriage train so the loco was having to work hard to get going.  This sort of image works well in black and white.  As with many of my images I cropped it so that a line comes from exactly in the corner.  It’s a powerful composition tool.

If you are interested in gin, or in steam trains, it’s a great day out, and good for photography too.

Photography is not about the camera

People sometimes say to me things like: “You take great photos.  You must have a really good camera.”  I do have some sophisticated cameras that allow me to take photos in a wide range of lighting conditions, but the real secret to better photography is about using your eyes and brain, not about using a camera.  Once you visualise the image in your head you need to use whatever camera you have that will allow you to capture that image.  If the camera you have with you can’t do what you’ve thought of then you need to think of another image.

Take these three images all taken with different cameras:

This first image was taken with my “walkabout camera” on a geocaching trip with a friend.  It’s a partial “icebow” formed when sunlight refracts through high cirrus clouds.  These clouds are so high that they are made of ice rather than water vapour.   I’ve increased the contrast and saturation in Photoshop to show the colours better.  The camera was a Lumix TZ-100 travel zoom camera.  It’s not the best performer in low light, and the long end of the zoom lens is soft, but it’s pretty good quality and is nice and small(ish).  The other camera I had with me, my mobile phone, would not have been able to isolate the small part of the sky the icebow was in.

For this fabulous female “Broad-bodied chaser” dragonfly in the garden I used my Olympus E-M10 Mk3 and my longest focal length lens set at its widest aperture.  It’s equivalent to a 600m lens on a full-frame camera.  Whilst my TZ-100 would have got me as close it would not have allowed me to separate the background as well, and the separation was part of my vision for the image.   I had to wait till the dragonfly moved to the right position so the sun was shining through its body.  My phone camera would have been hopeless…

…but it excelled here!  I know I have mentioned it before, but the “Silky Water” mode on my Huawei phone camera allows me to produce images that my other cameras just can’t do without a lot of post-processing work.  It’s extended my photographic vision quite a bit.  Here is some moving water at Watersmeet in Devon, and I’ve moved the camera during the exposure.  I love the dreamy abstracts this technique can produce.

The important message here is that I was looking for, and visualising, these images well before I touched a camera.  The camera is just the tool that helps turn the idea into reality.  We don’t tell David Hockney that he must have really good paintbrushes!

Another HF holiday led

Last week I was leading another HF Holidays photography holiday.  This time it was down in Somerset, and was all about landscape photography.  To my mind “landscape photography” is not only about the big view but also the small details that make up that view.  A macro image can be landscape.

The guests were great fun and it was a delight to work with them.  We travelled around in West Somerset and even strayed into Devon.  Yes, we did have the  discussion about the correct order for a cream tea; jam first or cream first on the scone?  A favourite place with the guests was Porlock Weir.  It’s got a big view of Porlock Bay and a fabulous stony beach to ensure foreground interest.

Even the famous Butlin’s tent in Minehead got a look in.  The weather was a bit challenging (wet!) on one day, though Plan B worked and we stayed dry.  It did mean that the sky was full of interest, with light and shade and cloud and sun all happening at the same time.  I’ve used a Dramatic B&W Art setting on my TZ-100, and enhanced it even more in post-processing.  If you look hard you can see sunlit raindrops falling.

The people in a landscape add scale and interest too.   At Minehead harbour the sun came out and produced a good silhouette and shadow of this person sitting in a shelter.  I loved the mix of clarity and mystery it gives.

Next HF stop is Shropshire in June.  I’m looking forward to it.

The fifth wettest March in the UK since records began

It’s April now, so folks will be going on about April showers.  Well, we had a lot of rain in March!  It was, according to the Met Office, the fifth wettest March on record.  Not, you would think, conducive to photography.  I might disagree with that.  Rain, and overcast days, are great for photography.  Blue skies are boring!

There was a very heavy shower recently.  I had looked out of the hall window to check the weather and noticed that there were very big raindrops bouncing off my car roof.  I fitted my 100-300m lens to my E-M10 and focused manually on the spot where I wanted the drops to land.  I set the lens to its maximum aperture to give a nice blurry background.  It wasn’t very bright, so I pushed the ISO up to 1000 to give a reasonable shutter speed.  It came out at 1/4 sec.  Longer would have blurred the water too much.  It took quite a few frames to give a good drop pattern.  Cool look though.

One another March day I was in Swindon town centre.  It was, as they say, “trying to rain” with a lot of overcast cloud, so the light level was way down.  I thought the low light level was a perfect chance to use the “Silky water” light painting mode on my Huawei phone.  I kept the shutter open as I walked through a pedestrian tunnel.  It’s very mysterious.

This final image also used the “Silky Water” mode.  There’s a water feature in Swindon where water flows over a series of stainless steel ribs.  Moving the camera down accentuated the rib structure, yet took away any semblance of reality.  The low contrast due to the weather made it easy to keep the highlight detail.

Bad weather is good weather really.