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

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There’s no fire(works) without fire!

Here in the UK we have just celebrated Bonfire Night.  It’s when we have fun with fire and with fireworks.  The fireworks we ordinary folks can buy these days are quite tame, so it’s best to go to an organised display.  Their fireworks are much bigger and much nosier!  Bigger fireworks are better for photography too.

"Air burst 1"

“Air burst 1”

I set my camera to a shutter speed of about 0.6 seconds, to give good movement, and an aperture of f6.3 to give a reasonable of depth field.  There’s no need for flash of course, as fireworks have their own light source.  I wasn’t sure where the fireworks would be in the sky, so I pre-focused on a light about as far away as I thought they would be, and then set my camera to manual focus.

"Air burst 2"

“Air burst 2”

The white trails fill the sky, and here I was lucky with the colour of the starburst.  The red contrasts well with the white.

"Green bonfire flames"

“Green bonfire flames”

It’s important not to neglect the bonfire.  We don’t often get a chance to see such big fires, and they seem to take on a life of their own.  This fire developed some interesting greeny-yellow flames which I isolated with a 300mm (equivalent) zoom lens.  In a previous life, as an analytical chemist, I did “flame tests” to determine the elements present.  I recall that an apple-green colour was caused by barium, and that yellow-green was caused by manganese or molybdenum.  No chance to check here!

There will be more fireworks at New Year, so remember to take your camera.

Black & white or colour?

Last night I gave a talk about improving your photography, and one question that came out of the session was, “What’s the process you go through when deciding to convert an image to black and white?”  My answer was, “It depends on the subject, and the mood and story I’m trying to communicate”.

Take this example, of a pool at the end of the Jubilee Creek gold mine walk in Knysna Forest, South Africa. It was taken with a wide-angle lens, 28 mm equivalent, on a Panasonic Lumix G3.

"The pool, Knysna Forest - colour"

“The pool, Knysna Forest – colour”

I wanted to make something of the mass of plants surrounding the pool.  It was a very wet day, so raindrops were falling into the water, breaking up the reflections in the pool.  There was no sun, so there were not many really bright highlights, and  the overall contrast was quite low.  In colour it was a pleasant enough image, but didn’t convey how it looked to me, and how I felt.  I was rather wet, a bit cold, and not feeling too bright; I went down with food poisoning a couple of hours later!

"The pool, Knysna Forest - B&W"

“The pool, Knysna Forest – B&W”

Converting to B&W in Lightroom gave a much better feeling to the image, taking away the complicating green tones, but the mood still wasn’t there.  I applied a medium vignette to darken the corners, and darkened the highlight near the centre of the frame at the bottom.  The dark corners give more emphasis to the pool and waterfall in the centre.  I lightened the waterfall a little to give it a bit more importance.  The image now carries much more atmosphere, and a bit of mystery.

As I said at the beginning, whether to convert an image to black and white depends on the story you are trying to tell.  Telling the story doesn’t stop when you’ve pressed the shutter button.

Getting the low down.

I’ve just been away in South Africa for 3 weeks, and made sure I followed the travel photography advice I talked about in a previous post.  I did actually need to buy another 16Gb memory card while I was away, as the photographic possibilities there were infinite.  My main camera was a Panasonic Lumix G3.  It’s got a very useful fully-articulating rear screen, which means I can put the camera high or low and still see the screen to compose the image.

"Hadada ibis"

“Hadada ibis”

With this image, of Hadada Ibis, I wanted to be sure of getting the birds silhouetted against the sunlit sea in the background.  Taking the shot at eye level lost the tail of the left-hand bird in the rocks, so I put the camera near to the ground.  It gave just enough separation between the bird and the rocks.

"Lizard in Stellenbosch"

“Lizard in Stellenbosch”

We saw lots of lizards on our trip, but this one at Stellenbosch’s Botanic Gardens was interesting as it seemed to have lost most of its tail.  Putting the camera on the ground gave a lizard’s-eye viewpoint and a good off-centre composition.

"Cape river crab"

“Cape river crab”

Finally, of course, a crustacean.  We were in the wonderful Botanic Gardens at Kirstenbosch near Cape Town, and I saw what I thought was a pile of twigs on the grass.  It moved, and I thought it was a large spider!  It turned out to be a Cape river crab, that got quite defensive when I got too close.  Once again the low viewpoint has given us a view of life at the crab’s level.

So, get down low to get a different view.

No sun, no flash? No worries!

The sun has set and you’ve left your external flash at home.  You could use the room’s artificial light or your camera’s built-in flash, but with no control over light direction your images may not be that interesting.

There’s a laptop available, a red LED bicycle rear lamp, and a 5-LED white torch.  What can you do with those light sources?

"18th Century house; 21st Century life"

“18th Century house; 21st Century life”

You could use the light from the laptop’s screen as a light for a portrait that balances the subject’s 18th Century house and their 21st Century life.  The directional light from the laptop screen illuminates the corner of the room, and the person, whilst leaving the rest of the room dark.  It’s almost like a candle’s light.

"Bicycle rear LED light"

“Bicycle rear LED light”

That brings us to the LED bicycle rear light.  The points of light from the LEDs are broken up by the light’s lens into a partly square shape.  Using a tripod to make sure the camera is steady, and asking asking the person to move it in a star shape whilst the shutter is open, results in this image.  The 13 second exposure allows for a few star shape cycles to give more interest.

"5-LED torch swirl"

“5-LED torch swirl”

Finally we’ve got to the 5-LED torch.  The LEDs are in a line and quite distinct.  Using a long exposure again, and making sure the swirly is more random than the bike light, gives an interesting pattern.  Copying it and mirroring it in Photoshop gives symmetry.

No sun, no flash? No worries!  Just use whatever lights you can find!!

Watch the birdy!

That’s the phrase that photographers used in the past to get their subject’s attention.  But what do you do to get the attention of a bird?  Well, I use a soft clicking noise!  It doesn’t always work, and other people sometimes look at me a bit sideways, but if I get better images as a result I don’t mind that.

I was at a local Fete recently and there was a falconry display.  After the display the falconer put his birds into a rather dark tent.  Using a long (300mm) lens I was able to get some bird portraits with the, not very bright, available light, and with different backgrounds.

"Short-eared owl portrait"

“Short-eared owl portrait”

I had to wait for quite a while to get this short-eared owl to look at me, but the wonderful expression, and fabulous eyelashes (!), made it worthwhile.  I’ve lightened the face shield, and vignetted the corners, to make the face stand out.  The background was in shadow so it’s rendered as almost black, allowing us to concentrate on the face and the feather texture.

"A buzzard called Leyton"

“A buzzard called Leighton”

This buzzard, rather wonderfully named “Leyton”, was in moult, and the loose feather on his head made for a slightly comical look.  You can see how different his face shape is compared to the owl.  Buzzards use binocular vision to hunt, whereas owls use sound.  The background here is the white wall of the tent.  Once again I’ve vignetted the corners to concentrate on the bird.

"Barn owl portrait"

“Barn owl portrait”

Finally there’s a portrait of a beautiful barn owl (tyto alba).  It was on the falconer’s gloved hand with the Fete’s field in the background.  The mottled green of the background goes well with the brown/cream tones of the bird’s feathers.  The heart-shaped face shield of the bird catches sounds and focuses them towards the asymmetrically-placed ears, giving fantastic hearing.

Three different birds, and three different backgrounds.  I probably moved no more than 6 feet to change the background from white to black to green.