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

    If you are looking to improve your photographic creativity, skills or knowledge, check out the Photography Training pages.

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I demand compensation!

During these short winter days, the lighting can sometimes be wonderful, but it can sometimes hinder photography.  It’s the overcast days where it can hinder.  The reason is the much higher level of brightness that an overcast sky has compared to the brightness of the foreground.  Your camera tries hard to average out the scene’s brightness and the result is a dull foreground.

“Catalina no compensation” by Derek Gale

Her’s an example.  It’s of something that’s really interesting to an aviation enthusiast; the fuselage of a Consolidated Catalina flying boat.  Anoraky types will notice it’s an amphibious version…  The sky was bright so the camera has underexposed the foreground, leading to loss of detail. So how do we get round this? Your camera will probably have a control that can help.  It’s called the Exposure Compensation control.  There may be a dedicated button identified with a +/-  symbol, but it may be in a menu.

“Catalina plus one compensation” by Derek Gale

Here it is in action.  I’ve dialled up +1 unit of Exposure Compensation.  + numbers add brightness, –  numbers reduce brightness.  You can see that there is more detail visible in the fuselage, and the sky has gone much brighter.  If all we want is the detail in the foreground we’re done, but if we still want detail in the sky we need to get it back.

“Catalina graduated filter” by Derek Gale

One way to get it back is using an accessory called a “graduated grey neutral density filter”.  It’s a piece of plastic (or if you’re very posh it’s glass), that’s grey near the top and gradually goes clear towards the bottom.  The grey top reduces the exposure at the top of the image, so it gets darker.  Being plain grey it adds no extra colour.  The clear part lets all the light through, so the exposure for that part stays the same.  It gives you the best of both worlds; good foreground detail and still some sky detail.  You can see from this image that we’ve got the detail we want all over the image.

Put one on your Christmas list (along with a photography training gift voucher…).

Plain or filtered?

I recently stayed (for a very special birthday) at the wonderful Woodsford Castle in Dorset, UK.  Parts of it go back to the middle of the 14th Century, and it is very atmospheric.  It’s owned by the Landmark Trust, and you can rent it.  It sleeps up to 8 people, and is, in effect, a very large holiday cottage.

I wanted to show how the castle looked on a beautifully crisp sunny day, but couldn’t get it all in one frame as the widest lens on my Panasonic G3 was a 20mm (40mm equivalent).  To get round this I took 3 images and combined them in Photoshop CS5 to give a panorama.

I felt that the image needed to be in black and white, so set up a B&W layer in Photoshop. You don’t get a good B&W image just by desaturating a colour image.  A B&W layer gives you much more control.

“Woodsford Castle – no filter” by Derek Gale

It looked OK with the default settings, but I wanted a bit more, so I delved into the B&W filters menu.  These simulate the effect of putting a coloured filter on your lens when shooting with B&W film.

“Woodsford Castle – Blue filter” by Derek Gale

Simulating a blue filter took away all of the saturation in the blue sky. The sky is now much too light.  The filter has also accentuated the texture of the stone, and it makes the building look a bit older.

“Woodsford Castle – Red filter” by Derek Gale

This image uses a simulated red filter (and a bit more Contrast).  The blue sky has darkened down, and overall the image has much more impact.  The filter has also removed some apparent imperfections in the stonework so it looks much newer.  You can imagine it being used by a 14th cent estate agent…

So, one image and three very different looks, and that’s without putting in any variations in the filter effects, or adding further adjustment layers.  Of course, there’s also the choice of how to tone the final printout, by choosing the right paper and ink combination.

Isn’t photography fun!

A string of pearls…

The autumn/winter weather is really upon us now.  On Sunday I had the “pleasure” of driving through a very heavy snowfall indeed on my way to the Royal Photographic Society in Bath, where I was tutoring a creative photography course.  The course was great fun, and well worth the effort of getting there.

The bad weather does bring benefits though.  There was a cold misty morning recently, and the cobwebs were shining with dew/mist.  I realised it was time to try to capture their beauty.  A normal lens wouldn’t have got close enough so I fitted my Sigma 50mm f2.8 EX  macro lens.  For a great cobweb shot you need to control the light, and as there wasn’t much light around I chose to use a remotely-triggered Nikon SB800 speedlight as my main light source.

“Pearly cobweb 1” by Derek Gale

There was a nice cobweb on our garden table and chairs.  I lit it so that part of the table got some light as well as the cobweb which brought out a bit of colour.  There’s an interesting bit of “cobweb wobble” on the lower right hand side.  I assume that a droplet had just fallen off and it had caused the web to bounce.  It’s quite hard to see some of the web’s threads, so it looks as if the droplets are floating in space.

“Pearly cobweb 2” by Derek Gale

I wanted a more coherent web so I moved to my car.  There’s usually a web between my car door and door mirror. With the SB800 on the ground the web was backlit, and the car door was mostly dark.  I used the door mirror as a shield to stop light from the flash flaring into the lens.  It’s an image that could be from the Large Hadron Collider, or the track of moons round a mystery planet.

“Pearly cobweb 3” by Derek Gale

I really liked how these droplets looked against the dark background, so I moved closer to get a simpler composition.  Here there are far fewer droplets, but you can see ever smaller droplets between the larger ones.  It’s a sort of fractal.

Water droplets on a cobweb are a bit of a photographic cliché, but there’s a reason for that; they are beautiful!  So, before you brush that door mirror cobweb away get out your camera.

Keep on taking the tablets: Part 6.

I recently got, from someone on Freegle, an old Pentax S1 film camera.  With the camera came a box containing various old enlarger lenses, but there was also a 10cm diameter simple glass lens.  It’s flat on one side and convex on the other.  Having played with it a bit I realised it would make a great “accessory lens” for the camera on my Samsung Galaxy Tab.  I found that if I set the Tab’s camera to Macro and held the lens in front of the Tab’s own lens, I could focus really close.

Here’s one of my first tries.  These two fuschia flowers were part of a hanging basket and looked great in the morning sun.  There was, however, a quite strong wind which was blowing them about and making it hard to focus and frame.  I decided to take advantage of the sunshine, but inside rather than outside in the wind.

“Galaxy orchid” by Derek Gale

We have a beautiful Phalaenopsis orchid, so I put it in the sun and part closed the curtains so only the orchid was lit.  This made the background nice and dark.  I turned the orchid round to give good cross lighting texture and a strong shadow, and framed nice and close to capture the detail of the flower.  The highlight on one part of the flower is a bit burnt out, but that’s always an issue with small sensors.

I reckon that for a free lens it’s a good buy, so why not check out Freegle yourself?  Who knows what you might find!

Large scale, or scale model?

When I talk to people who want to improve their landscape photography, they often ask me how they should go about choosing the subject.  We are surrounded by so many possible subjects it’s sometimes hard to know where to start.   I suggest they put down their camera and look very carefully at the landscape.  Doing that helps them to discover which part of it is making them feel that it is worthy of being photographed.  Having chosen the “what” there’s also the question of scale.  Take these two examples from a recent trip to the Gower Pensinsular in South Wales:

“Oxwich Bay reflections” by Derek Gale

This is a telephoto shot of a large section of landscape.  I was attracted by the silhouetted headland, and the cloud shadows on the twinkly sea.  There’s a cloud shadow on the left hand side of the frame that mirrors the end part of the headland.  I cropped the image, to put the horizon one third of the way down from the top, and cloned out a distracting small boat.  The result is a well balanced, classic, large scale landscape image.

“Broad Pool reflections” by Derek Gale

Smaller scale landscapes work too.  This is at Broad Pool, one of my favourite Gower places.  My plan was to get some images of reflections in the still water of the pool, but it was a very windy day so the water surface was moving around a lot. Instead of the whole pool I chose a small area with the reflection of a single reed.  The water’s movement has produced an abstract image with a reflected patch of blue sky hinting at better weather.

Each of these images involves reflections on water, but their scales are quite different.  So before you press the shutter decide whether you’re going to “go large” or going to try a bit of “bonsai photography”.