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

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Gale’s Galanthus

Welford Park, near Newbury in Berkshire, is a country house with a real speciality this time of the year; snowdrops.   The galanthus bit of this post’s title is the Latin name for snowdrops.  It comes from the Greek for “milk flower”.  For a few weeks in February and early March the gardens are open, so visitors can admire the magnificent displays of flowers.  How could I resist going along?

“Welford Park snowdrops #1” by Derek Gale

One of the main attractions is in the beech wood, as the ground is literally carpeted with snowdrops.   I used a long focal length lens to compress the perspective and show the masses of plants to their best advantage.  Like a brick wall is made from individual bricks, this carpet of snowdrops is made up of thousands upon thousands of individual plants.

“Welford Park snowdrops #2” by Derek Gale

Those individual plants are worth photographing in their own right.  I dropped down low and used a wide aperture on my Lumix GF3, to give sharp focus on just one clump of plants in the foreground.  The background plants are going out of focus, and it actually looks a bit as if the foreground plants are in front of a mirror.

I was still wondering how I could show the “snowdrop carpet” better.

“Welford Park snowdrops #3” by Derek Gale

I decided to try “creative camera shake”.  This technique uses a long shutter speed and lots of camera movement.  Here I used a 1/15th of a second and moved the camera downwards as I pressed the shutter.  It’s a technique that often needs a bit of trial and error to get the shutter firing in the right place.  When it works, it gives a dreamy, impressionistic effect.

The 2013 snowdrop season is now over, and the gardens are closed, so make a note in your 2014 diaries to go and see the Welford Park snowdrops!

Is my hand really a person?

I’ve got a bunch of stock images in the photo library Alamy.  These days photo libraries such as Alamy are very picky about people in images.  If there is a person, or more than one person, then you need a document called a “model release” in which the person grants you, the photographer, rights to use the images for most reasonable purposes. This includes use in advertising even if the person doesn’t approve of the product or service on offer.   Without a model release, images with a person in can only be used for editorial purposes, and can only be sold as what’s called “rights managed”.  This may reduce options for income from the image.

So what is a “person”?

“Really a person?” by Derek Gale

Well, this is.

Your image doesn’t have to contain a whole person.  If the image contains just a part of a person that could be recognised by that person, it needs a model release.  It can even be a shadow.  In this case it’s easy to get a model release, as it’s my hand holding the hygrometer.  It was a bit hard to whirl the hygrometer with one hand whilst holding my dSLR steady with the other hand.  As for pressing the shutter…

So if you are thinking of using photo libraries, and your images have people, get those releases in place.

Cache and carry?

When I’m not taking pictures* I like geocaching.  For those who don’t know what that is, you can think of it as a high-tech outdoor treasure hunt played with hand-held GPS units (or smartphones).  Someone hides a container at a specified location, you get the co-ordinates from the geocaching website, and then you use your GPS, and skill, to find the cache.  Determining a cache location can sometimes be very complicated, with codes to crack and clues to answer, and actually getting to the cache can be even harder.  There are lots to find; over 1.5 million worldwide, and over 75,000 in the UK.

I’ve been thinking about a photographic project involving geocaching, and came up with the idea of taking shots of cache locations, cache contents and the “view from the cache”.  Geocache locations are meant to be kept secret from non-cachers (known as muggles), so there’s no real clues in the following images as to where the caches are.

“Geocache location” by Derek Gale

Cache locations vary from very rural areas to the middle of cities.  There’s even one on the International Space Station in orbit round the earth!  Very many are in the countryside, which means you can practice your landscape photography.  I came across this sculptural dead tree which has a cache at its base.  The threatening clouds added to the air of secrets and mystery, as does the conversion to B&W.

“Geocache contents” by Derek Gale

The contents of caches vary a lot.  The least a cache will contain is a log book so you can date your visit and sign your name (all good geocachers carry a pencil).  What else is there depends on the size of the cache.  Some are quite large boxes, others are as small as a finger joint.  If you’re lucky the cache may have a “travel bug” or a geocoin.  These are items that make their way from cache to cache, and each has a unique identifying code.  I’ve blurred out this one’s code.

“View from the geocache” by Derek Gale

Finally, there’s the “view from the cache”.  Caches aren’t buried and sometimes they are sat in plain sight.  It’s fascinating, having just found a cache, watching other people walk past not knowing it’s there.  This cache, now sadly gone, had a wonderful view of the Marlborough Downs.  I was struck by the cloud formations in the distance, and how they balanced where the very bright sun was in the frame.

It’s a project I’m still working on, so I’ll keep you informed.

* Clearly I take pictures even when I’m not taking pictures!

“Tyger, tyger, burning bright”

What does a quote from the famous William Blake poem have to do with portrait photography?  Well, another part of the verse goes, “…could frame thy fearful symmetry?”, and this post is about facial symmetry.

Most of the time we see people’s faces as being symmetrical, but that’s not the case.  In fact, pretty well everyone’s face is not symmetrical to some extent, it’s just that most of the time we don’t notice it, or look for it (unless we are talking to Lembit Opik).

Take a look at this girl’s face…

“Asymmetric face?” by Derek Gale

At first glance she looks nice and symmetrical, but what happens if you look a bit closer?  I used Photoshop to split her face in two (ouch!), and copy each side.  Flipping each side and lining it up, I then made composite images that were either “2 left sides” or “2 right sides”.  You can see some striking differences between the two.

“Asymmetric faces x2” by Derek Gale

If we ignore the differences in her hair and the lighting background, you can see that the image that is made from “2 right sides” is much wider than the image that is made from “2 left sides”.  To me, one of the composite images looks more like the real person than the other image does.  That tells me that there are certain parts of peoples faces that are the key things we use to identify them.

So why does this matter when we’re shooting portraits?  Well, knowing that faces are nearly always asymmetric should make us look much closer, and choose the lighting that best suits the shape of the person’s face.  We should also try and work out what it is about a person’s face that makes it recognisable, and then try to emphasis those features.

Who needs a camera?

There are so many ways to take pictures these days. You can take them on compact cameras, DSLR cameras, mobile phones, tablets, etc.  There’s an awful lot of photography going on these days that doesn’t use a dedicated camera.  In fact, images taken on mobile phones now account for the majority of images being uploaded to the photo-sharing website Flickr.

Even though there are lots of conventional ways, you can still capture digital images without using a camera at all.  One option is to use a desktop scanner.  It uses a light source and a light sensitive detector, so to me it’s still photography.

“Scanned juicer” by Derek Gale

This is a orange/lemon juicer scanned with the lid open.  The scanner can’t light the background much so it’s come out nice and dark.  The fairly non-directional light source has given some interesting highlights and edge lighting, with a few spectra thrown in for good measure.

Scanners don’t write the whole image all at once, and you can take advantage of the slowness to be a bit creative.

“Scanned orange and hand” by Derek Gale

Here I’ve scanned a cut orange (face down on the scanner glass), and held my hand over it as the scanner head passed along.  Whilst the scan was underway I moved my hand to mimic the action used when juicing the fruit.  My fingers have gone into some very strange shapes.  I didn’t want the background to be black so I held wicker basket lid above the scanner with my other hand.  The end result is somewhat surreal.

Got a desktop scanner?  Why not give it a go?