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

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Variations on a theme

A while back I gave a talk to the photographic club in Newport, South Wales.  Newport is famous for its transporter bridge over the River Usk.  It was opened in 1906 and is one of a very few still operating  in the world.  It has two tall pylons, and a car-carrying gondola that travels between them under a huge girder structure.  I had some free time before my talk, so I popped down to see the bridge.

I had my TZ-70 travel zoom with me.  Standing in the town side loading area, I took advantage of its wide zoom range to get some shots of the gondola on the far side.  The first shows the span of the girder, the pylon design and their relationship to the low riverbank.  It was the low banks that forced the construction of a transporter bridge.  The V-shaped cloud matching the V of the loading area gates was a bonus.

I then zoomed in to simplify the composition and show the gondola hanging system and pylon supports.  The delicate tracery of the pylons contrasts with the very solid stone pylon supports.  The control cabin of the gondola looks like a Victorian railway signalling box.

I had to travel on the bridge of course!  This is looking up from the gondola into the pylon just before we set off.  What do all those wires do?  You can climb up the staircase on the pylon to a walkway at the top.  It was a bit too windy the day I was there, so I exercised some restraint.  It looked like hard work too!

The River Usk is tidal at Newport, which was the reason why they needed a bridge; ferries can’t used at low tide.  The water coming in on the tide was very muddy to say the least, but the reflection of the pylon did give an interesting semi-abstract image.  I did have to boost the contrast a bit.  I debated cloning the stick out, but decided to leave it in as it wasn’t a complete abstract.

One structure and four different looks.  It’s always worth playing the variations game.

Up close and personal: Part 2

In my last blog post I talked about use of macro lenses and how the “rules” of composition applied to images taken with them.  In today’s post I’m going to show how close-up and macro photography can give images that are very abstract, because of their ability to remove all information about scale.

Here is a close-up of part of a red bedsheet on a washing line on a perfect drying day.  The red against the fabulous blue of the sky makes for a simple design-led image.  Composing the shapes across the diagonal produces an image that looks like a signal flag.  It’s simple but effective.

Macro photography can reveal startling beauty in fairly mundane things.  This is a 1:1 macro image* of some glittery wrapping paper.  The individual reflective elements in the paper form a striking pattern, and there’s almost a 3-D effect where they overlap.

* 1:1 means, in the case of my Four-Thirds sensor, that something 17.3 mm wide covers the whole width of the 17.3 mm wide sensor.  It is the same size on the sensor as it is in real life.

Even more of an abstract look can be obtained by being creative with the limited depth of field that you get with macro photography.  This perfume bottle has coloured foil in its base which gives attractive colours to the glass as you turn it.  I’ve focused on structure of the glass and the colours in the background have gone very diffuse.  It’s now an abstract of shape and colour, and it’s impossible to tell what the object actually is.

Try macro as your source of abstraction.

Up close and personal

Next year I will be offering a camera club talk about “Close-up and Macro photography”.  In the talk I will discuss the joys, and challenges, that this sort of photography brings.  There will be a certain amount of stuff about equipment and techniques, but the “rules” of photography still apply to close-up and macro images.

One of the “rules” is that in a portrait the eyes should be in focus.  In this close-up image of a snail only the eyes are in focus.  I used a my OM-D E-M10 with very cheap CCTV lens fitted with an extension tube to help me focus closer.  It shows that you don’t need to use expensive kit to get interesting images.  Although snails don’t move that fast they do wave their eye stalks about quite quickly, so it was hard to get them both pin sharp. It was fun trying though!

Getting a strong composition line in your images is also a good thing.  Here the diagonal twig leads down to the main subject which is the backlit silver birch leaf.  Some water droplet highlights lend a bit of secondary subject contrast and the bokeh circles give an interesting background.  Taken with a Nikon-fit Sigma macro lens on a Nikon to Micro 4/3rds adapter.

Finally, it’s always worth trying a different viewpoint.  This little yellow flower was only about 1 cm across and was very close to the ground.  I lay down in order to get it at its own level.  I used a Panasonic 100-300mm lens with an extension tube to be able to focus very close.

If your club is interested in my talk do get in touch via the Contact Me page.

It’s a matter of convergence.

On a recent photography holiday I led for HF Holidays, we discussed converging verticals and how to fix them. Converging verticals happen when you are at ground level close to the base of building and use a wide-angle lens to get the whole building in.

This example, of the Musuem of the Gorge in Ironbridge, Shropshire, shows what happens.  I used an 18mm wide-angle lens, stood close to the base of the building, and pointed the camera up.   I was closer to the base of the building than the top, so the base looks bigger and the top looks smaller.  This has the effect of making the sides of the building, which should be vertical, appear to converge at a point outside of the frame.  The building seems to be leaning backwards.

So how do you fix this?  Well, there are various methods:

You can use a longer focal length lens and get further away from your subject.  This means that the distance from you to the base of the building and you to the top of the building are more equal.

You can also try and get higher up, again to equalise the distance between you and the top and bottom of the building.

You could use a special lens called a “shift lens”.  These are very expensive and uncommon, so are not really a practical option for most photographers.

You can correct the perspective distortion in Photoshop.  You do need to leave plenty of space round your subject to allow for the cropping.

In this second image I have moved further away, used a 36mm lens, and got higher up.  The sides of the building are now parallel with the image sides and it looks much more natural.

You could, of course, not worry about such things at all and just use the converging verticals to emphasise the size of the building.  This castle tower in Clun is an example.  The convergence makes it look much bigger than it does in real-life (whatever that is!).

You need hands.

In portrait photography one of the things that needs a bit of thought is how to deal with the subject’s hands.  If you aren’t careful they can look a bit odd and unnatural.  Some people suggest hiding them behind the subject, or asking them to put their hands in their pockets.  I reckon that you can get interesting images by concentrating on just the hands, and ignoring the rest of the person!

This potter at an art exhibition was concentrating very hard on getting the top of the pot perfect, so wasn’t at all bothered about me.  Their hands are a lovely shape, showing control and precision, with each hand supporting the other.

These are the hands of a naval trainee standing at ease.  They were at an event to honour veterans of the WW2 D-Day Normandy campaign.  There’s a very relaxed look to the hands, yet they show discipline.  I’ve dropped the black level down so that the hands are shown against a plain dark background.

A hand in (almost) a classic “karate chop” position.  Karate translates as “empty hand” so it’s a visual pun.  The hand, whilst saying it is empty, is not empty, so it’s a visual paradox as well.  It’s a bit like “This page intentionally left blank”.  Oh the fun you can have with fridge magnets!

Hands a problem in portrait photography?  Not if you get rid of the body…