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

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It’s all about the light (again).

I wanted to do some close-up garden photography today but it was too windy.  Even trying my fancy cleft stick plant stabiliser didn’t work well enough, so I picked a flower from the garden and popped into the studio.  I used a very high tech system, masking tape, to fix the flower to a light stand.  I already had some black paper in the background, so nothing needed doing there.  I popped my Oly EM-10 on a tripod and fixed a macro lens so I could get up close and personal to the 3-inch flower.

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“One light”

This first image has one cheap and simple light, a £10 IKEA clip-on LED lamp, slightly above and to the left of the camera.  It’s quite a hard light that gives sharp shadows.  There was a white-painted wall about 3 feet to the right of the flower, and it reflected a bit of light back to the right-hand side of the flower.  There’s a nice light to dark flow from left to right.

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“One light + reflector”

Holding a piece of white card just out of shot to the right of the flower filled in the shadows on the right-hand side, and gave much more evenly balanced light.  Some detail that was in shadow in the previous image has now become visible.  The contrast between light and dark is now lower.

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“One light + back light”

Finally I used an electronic flash behind and below the flower to give some backlighting.  There’s some light from the white wall, so I didn’t use a close-in reflector.  The backlight has popped a bit of contrast back, and given yet more detail.

A simple subject, and an exercise in how simple lighting changes can make quite a difference in the final image.

Off to IKEA with you!

Take the weight off your feet.

When you’re travelling you sometimes need to have a rest, and this is where chairs come in handy. If you are in a grand building it’s easy to overlook the functional furniture, but there are interesting images to be found.



In Yorkshire’s Ampleforth Abbey I saw a single chair near a pool of sunlight.  A quick adjustment to its position gave a good shadow and a dark background.  I’ve darkened the background a bit more in post-processing to give a feeling of solitude.  It’s got a similar composition to the images in the my last post, with lots of space.

"All the same, but different"

“All the same, but all different”

Lots and lots of chairs here in Ely Cathedral.  Once again there were pools of light, which gave a nice range of tones in the image and added to the design.  I used a telephoto lens to give a bit of perspective compression.  What struck me was the fact that, because they use wood, all the chairs are different even though they are mass-produced.

"Pattern of chairs"

“Pattern of chairs”

Still in Ely Cathedral, in the Lady Chapel, these chairs are all the same. Once again I’ve used a telephoto lens to make the pattern more obvious.  It’s a study of diagonal and horizontal lines, and of machine precision.

They’re just chairs, but it’s worth taking a closer look.

Less is more!

It’s tempting with photography to try and cram in as many things as possible into our images.  The argument goes: We’ve paid for those pixels so why not use them all?  I think there are times where less is definitely more.  The lack of complication gives space for the subject to “breathe”, and allows the viewers time to consider how the story might unfold.

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“The Castle of Good Hope”

Take this “street photography” image from “The Castle of Good Hope” in Cape Town, South Africa.  Putting the main subject at the extreme left gives them lots of space to walk into, and lets them intersect with the white line to form an informal triangle.  The simplicity allows you to concentrate on them and notice; their bare feet, wonderfully long hair, and the fact that they are walking along the edge of the crazy paving path.

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“Gower surfer”

More bare feet, but this time it’s a surfer on Rhossili Beach in Gower, South Wales.  On a sunny day the blue sky has reflected in the wet sand, giving a blue tone to most of the image.  The blue gives a great colour contrast with the red of the surfboard, and the reflection of the board makes an arrow pointing in the direction the surfer is walking.  The tiny figure relative to the vast expanse of blue shows how far the surfer has got to go to get to the sea.

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“Tate cleaner”

This final image uses emptiness to show the scale of a job someone has to do – cleaning the turbine hall floor in London’s Tate Modern.  I waited carefully before I pressed the shutter in order to get the mop head pointing inwards.  It forms another “informal triangle” with the person and mop handle.  Her red top catches the eye nicely, and once more there’s a colour contrast between her top and the floor.

So, it’s more or less clear that less can be more!

Just what’s that image about?

Yesterday I was in the lovely village of Uffington a few miles from where I live.  The old village stores has closed down*, and the building it was in is now looking quite shabby.  I was wondering how much longer it’s going to be there, given it’s in a prime site in the village.  As a building plot it’s worth a fortune!

I though it worth spending a few minutes recording it.  Given that it’s not at my home it counts as travel photography!  As with all photography, I had to make decisions about what to include, and what story I was trying to tell.  I decided that one image wasn’t enough, so took a series.  I tried to give a sense of what the old stores was ABOUT, rather than just showing images OF it.

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Uffington Stores facade

So here’s the facade of the stores.  I think it looks a bit as if it’s from an old western film.  Because it’s closed down people no longer pay it any attention; they don’t look at it or maintain it.  Villages like Uffington need shops and Post Offices, or they risk becoming dormitories where you need a car to do anything.

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The parcel taped ventilator

The details of a building can tell a lot about its history.  This window on the front has cracked glass, peeling paint and a ventilator/fan housing closed off, unevenly, with parcel tape.  That’s a good material to use given that this was also the village Post Office.

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Shop now closed sign

Once this was a sign saying the the shop had closed.  Another bit of parcel tape still holds it on to the window, but water has faded the words and damaged the paper.  There’s a sort of water damage “coastal outline” on the right hand corner of the sign.  The white horse head in the lower part of the frame gives some coarse location information.

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Old Post Office hours

The Post Office opening hours sign was in much better condition, though it was of no use whatsoever. There’s cracked paint, and blossom in the cobwebs which helps tell the story.

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New store this way

* You may have noticed that the first image that there’s a big sign that says “Uffington Stores Now Open”.  That is because there is a new stores near the Village Hall.  It opened in 2014 and is a much larger, and better, facility than the one that closed.  This marvellously decrepit arrow made of tape and red paint points the way to the new shop.  I think the blue tape is by way of an afterthought, because the black tape initially used to outline the arrow didn’t show up very well on the black background.  To me it sums up the whole building.

No smoking!! Well, perhaps a little bit…

Smoke’s a great thing to photograph, and getting interesting shapes against a black background is quite easy to do.  I set my camera up on a tripod and put an incense stick into some Blu-Tack on a table in front of the camera.  I put some black paper in the background, and put my flash on the floor behind the table so it backlit the smoke but didn’t flash on to the lens, which would give flare and reduce contrast.  The flash had a wireless trigger on it, but a simple trigger cable would do just as well.

Incense smoke

Incense smoke

I prefocused on the smoke, then sat very still and breathed very softly so I didn’t disturb the smoke’s flow too much.  Here’s a shot of a lovely swirling shape.  No-one will ever produce the same image, as the airflow is unique.

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Samurai warrior?

If you take a smoke image into Photoshop, copy it into another layer, and move one layer off to the side, you can make the image symmetrical.  Once it’s symmetrical you start seeing recognisable objects in the images.  It’s something the brain needs to make happen so you can understand the image.  Here there’s a samurai warrior.

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The skeleton?

This image, of a Roswell alien skeleton perhaps, is two of smoke images flipped and copied.  The top half and bottom half do go together well.  If you look you might also see a cat wearing the top half of Yoda’s head… !!!

Smoking is bad for you, but can be great for photography!