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

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The horse above the mist

I live quite near to White Horse Hill in Oxfordshire.  It’s a chalk figure on the edge of the Marlborough Downs and the views from up there are fabulous – on a good day.  Last week there was fog/mist in our village, which is quite a bit lower than the hill, so I wondered what it would look like from up on the hill.  Would stuff be poking up out of the mist?  So off I went.

Sure enough there were things that were visible above the mist; the five Watchfield wind turbines.  They really were quite spooky as they slowly rotated.  I used my longest lens, a 600 mm equivalent, to isolate them.  You can just see some other bits of landscape in the foreground.

The light looking up towards the Iron Age hill fort of Uffington Castle was very strong.  The sun’s low angle relative to the fort’s sides meant that each bit of dew-covered grass was backlit.  I framed the sun behind the old sign warning about the site’s protected status, and used a wide-angle lens to get more of the fort’s embankments.

As I was about to leave a man who was walking his dog turned up.  He was silhouetted against the backlit wet grass, and the sun was also shining through the sheep’s wool on the fence.  All in all it was a great place to be.

Half an hour later all the mist had gone.

It pays to wait – sometimes!

So there I was on top of Pico Arieiro on Madeira and the weather was fantastic!  It’s 1818 metres above sea level but it was 30C and the sun was very fierce!  Looking down from the peak towards Santana and Eagle Rock was spectacular.  What looks like the sky in the background is in fact the sea due to the extreme downward-looking angle.  The weather was a bit too good though!

There are some attractive recessions, and the impressive volcanic geology of the island is clearly shown, but it’s lacking a bit of mood or atmosphere.  What I needed was some clouds…

… and I got some a couple of days later.  Just off the E202 road towards Poiso there’s a grassy site that has great views back towards Pico Arieiro, with its radar station, and Pico das Torres.  There was a lot of cloud and the peaks were hidden, (it’s the downside of interesting weather), but I waited a while and the clouds on the peaks cleared.  There was still cloud in the valley which added to the mood.  The result is a much more atmospheric image than the one from the top of Pico Arieiro.  Waiting is a good thing.

Or is it?  On the way back from Madeira I stopped off in Lisbon for a few days.  There’s a new gallery near Belem called MAAT.  Outside there was a bride and groom having a photoshoot.  I liked the contrast between them, the building and the security guard in the background.  I thought it might make an interesting image.  Just as I was taking it I become aware of a passing cyclist who wanted to get a shot herself.  I had to react very quickly before she had gone too far.  It’s a far more interesting image than the one I had planned!

So it’s important to wait and also important to not wait.  That’s clear then!

Isolated by design

I’m a big fan of isolating just a bit of the world and making a graphic design out of it.  I was able to practice this some more whilst on a recent holiday to Madeira and Lisbon.  If you are photographing light-coloured buildings the bright sunlight means that it’s possible to get the blue of the sky really dark.

This is part of the roof of the visitor centre at the viewpoint for the Curral das Freiras (Valley of the Nuns) on Madeira.  I used a 300mm equivalent focal length lens in order to select just part of the concrete roof.  The texture of the concrete fills up the otherwise blank white area, and the shadow area under the apex makes a triangle the same size as the sky triangles.  The landscape view into the Curral was amazing, but that’s a much more conventional image.

I used the same technique on the famous Padrão dos Descobrimentos monument in Belém, Lisbon.  It’s covered in statues showing famous Portuguese explorers, but I was struck by the curving shapes that represent the sails of a caravel.  There was some attractive edge lighting that separated the curves from each other.  Once again the blue of the sky rendered very dark because of the intensity of the light.

This image is slightly different.  It’s not man-made but is a basalt column rising from the sea in Madeira.  It’s got the most extraordinarily rough surface, with sharp and jagged sections poking out all over it.  There’s all manner of faces in profile and other shapes that can be seen in it.  I converted it to black and white and increased the contrast.  All detail has been lost and it’s hard to tell if it’s a white thing with a black background or vice versa.

Images like this can be seen everywhere.  You just need to learn to look for them

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 be 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.