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

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One or two or three?

Last week I was leading a photography holiday in Cornwall.  On one day I had a chance to go for a walk between St Ives and Lelant, via Carbis Bay.  It was fabulous weather with bright sunshine and a good breeze. Near to Carbis Bay the view from the cliffs was stunning.  There were just a few people on the beach and there were gulls circling.   I got out my TZ-100 camera and took a group of three people on the beach.  I waited till a gull was in shot to give some balance.

This is the original image with three people and a gull.

I tried a simple edit in Photoshop to remove the third person.  I think it’s changed the story to be more about the relationship of couple and their romantic walk on the beach.

Losing the couple and keeping the single person gave yet another story.  Now it’s more about solitude, or perhaps loneliness.

I put those three images up on Facebook and asked which one people preferred.  More people preferred the one with the three people, but there was a unanimous wish that the gull was gone, as they thought it was a distraction.  This final image has no gull!  I think I agree with them as it’s now about the three people and their relationship to the sea.

Moral?  The only good gull is one that’s not there.

Crossing the Rubicon.

Well, it’s actually the River Severn between England and Wales, but the point is the same.  This river has one of the largest tidal ranges in the world, so crossing it has always been a bit challenging.  It has fast currents, and from time to time a tidal bore, which is well worth seeking out.  One of the 20th-Century crossing routes for cars was via Aust, and it ran until 1966.  There are still traces of it to be found close to the M48 Severn Bridge which opened in 1966.

Reeds have taken over the slipway and it’s getting hard to imagine that a regular car ferry service ever operated there.  The original gates, derelict toilet block and pedestrian turnstile are still there but may be demolished soon.  Here I dropped down to a low level to get a silhouette of the gate against the sky.  It was the type of sky that looked best in black and white, so I used a Black & White Art filter on my Panasonic Lumix Tz-100 compact camera.  It’s the same for all these images.

The Second Severn Crossing (SSC) is not too far from the Aust Ferry gate.  It’s a cable-stayed bridge, unlike the original Severn Bridge which is a suspension bridge, and was opened in 1996.  There were some fabulous rain clouds about which gave great interest to the sky.  The showers from this one missed me but those from another one didn’t!  I carefully composed to get the bridge centre section in the bottom right-hand corner.

Later in the day, when the light had changed, I moved closer to the SSC to get the late afternoon sunlight on the edge of the road deck.  It was at the extreme of my camera’s zoom range, which can be little soft, but the contrasty light makes it look sharp enough. I’ve lowered the shadows to give a good dark feel to the image.

The moral is to take time to visit the land around bridges sometimes, rather than always crossing them as soon as you can.

“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!