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

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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.

Selfie expression

There was a TV programme on this week about the selfie craze.  It’s something that has come from almost nowhere, to be the thing that you just have to do when you are out and about.  It’s then got to be posted on social media.  Some argue that it feeds a need for the new generation to be seen to be having a great time, rather than just having a great time.

There are places to take selfies springing up, so you can take the same image as everyone else.  It’s a curious way to assert your individuality.  This one was by was of a parody, and was at Banksy’s Dismaland alternative art show in Weston Super Mare a few years ago.  There were still lots of folks using it though.

This one was used as advertising for the sheepsmilk Roquefort cheese, and was near the fabulous Millau Viaduct in France.  The hat reads “Death to Cows”.  My eye was caught by the abandoned apple juice bottle on a seat nearby.

This was also in France, at one of the sites being used for the “Rencontres des Arles” photography exhibition.  There was a series of them, and it wasn’t clear if they was being used in an ironic way, or if they just wanted folks to have a bit of fun.  The juxtaposition of the hard hat sign on an adjacent building site was to good to miss.

Perhaps it is an extension of those cutouts of people in bathing costumes that were at the seaside for you to stick your head through for other people to photograph?  It’s someone else’s idea of where to take a photo though, and that makes me a bit uncomfortable.  Perhaps I should lighten up!

A cathedral but no cathedra.

I recently I gave my “Movement in Photography” talk to Salisbury Camera Club.  I had a chance to wander round the cathedral before my talk.  It was a lovely clear evening, so I took the chance to test my phone camera for night photography.

This was a while after sunset, in the so-called “Blue Hour”.  It’s hand-held with no tripod, but still sharp.  I think the camera takes a number of frames and chooses the sharpest one.  I’ve used Perspective Crop in Photoshop to get the verticals nice and vertical.  There’s a nice colour contrast between the warm gold of the floodlights and the cool blue of the sky.

Inside there’s a new art installation with ladders of light.  I rested my phone on the edge of the font to get a perfect reflection.  The font is like an infinity pool, so it looks as if the cathedral’s flooded.

A cathedral is the seat of a bishop, and their throne is called a cathedra.  Us regular folk have to sit on regular chairs.  In Salisbury Cathedral there are stacks of metal-framed chairs in the side aisles.  The stacks do make interesting patterns.  Here I have gone for a symmetrical composition, but the the change in light on the tubes brings in variation.  It’s like the spine of an animal.

The cathedral in Salisbury is well worth a visit, and it’s now been declared safe after the Novichok incident.