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

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Quick, before the light goes!

This time of year, it’s now winter here in the UK, the light at any given time of day is quite different the light at the same time in the middle of the year.  The sun is at a much lower angle in the sky, and your subjects can get lit in very interesting ways.  Another thing that can happen is frost.  It’s fascinating whilst still frozen, and differently interesting when it thaws.

"Grassy Bokeh"

“Grassy Bokeh”

For this image, of thawed frost on grass, I used a wide-aperture Nikon-fit Sigma 70-200 lens on an Olympus micro 4/3rds camera and got down to ground level.  The low camera position allowed me to capture the low morning sun shining through the water droplets.  The very limited depth of field has rendered the out focus areas as circles.

"Frosty landscape?"

“Frosty landscape?”

This image looks like a frosty landscape with a road going across it, but appearances can be deceptive. It is frost, but the main subject is the roof of my car!  The line across at about 1/3rd of the way down is actually the gap between my car’s bootlid and the roof. The sun at the top centre is shining between a hedge and my studio.  I used a wide-angle lens (28mm equivalent) to exaggerate the perspective and a small lens aperture to give the starburst.  The light was like that for less than 5 minutes.

"The fig in the window"

“The fig in the window”

Finally a “fig in the window”.   The low winter sun was reflecting off a window of our neighbour’s house and on to our kitchen window.  It only happens a few times in the year.  We have a terracotta colour roller blind in the window, and a variegated fig plant.  The light was silhouetting the plant too much, so I’ve had to lift the exposure on the leaves in Photoshop.

So be quick, before the light goes!

Just a drop please…

At a recent keynote presentation I gave on creative photography, one aspect that I touched on was the use of distorting objects, or materials, in front of the lens.  This blog is about that, in a way…

These images were all taken with a mobile phone camera.  I put a tiny water droplet on the lens of the camera and found it acted as a macro lens, albeit one with quite a small area of sharp focus.  If you try this make sure it’s a small droplet or it will fall off when you hold the camera vertical.  It focused very close indeed, and had quite a wide field of view.

"Droplet lens - tablet screen droplets"

“Droplet lens – tablet screen droplets”

This first image is of water droplets, (of course!), on the screen of my tablet.  I was running an app that let me change the screen colour.  I tried various colours and found that white worked best.  There are some nice spectra round the droplets and the screen construction is quite clear.

"Droplet lens - LED lamp"

“Droplet lens – LED lamp”

Here’s an LED from a bicycle lamp.  Lots of lovely shapes in this image of one of the lamp’s lenses.

"Droplet lens - perfume bottle"

“Droplet lens – perfume bottle”

Finally, this is of the top of a perfume bottle.  The bottle has got some coloured foil lining it and angles/facets that give spectra.

Just a mobile phone and a drop of water, but fascinating images.

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.