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

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Just colour and shape.

Sometimes, whilst travelling, you come across something that’s just so colourful it’s crying out to be photographed.   If you do it’s often better to concentrate on just one section, rather than trying to get the whole thing.  By doing this you can produce images that are more abstract, or at least semi-abstract.

Take this doorway in Aviero, Portugal.  It’s a bit of a feature of the town that the buildings are painted in bright colours.  Think of it as being like Tobermory, but with sunshine!  By selecting just a part of the door and its surroundings, I have reduced the image to a simpler composition of shape and colour.  It’s no longer just a record image of a door.

This is a more extreme treatment of some walls in the Bo-Kaap, Cape Town, South Africa.   It’s hard to see that they refer to houses.  It’s like a Mondrian painting, and would make quite a challenging jigsaw.

Colin Chapman, founder of Lotus cars, used to say, “simplify and add lightness.”  I say, “simplify and add interest.”

“Swirly Bokeh” on a budget.

These days it is quite simple to fit what are called “legacy lenses” on to micro 4/3rds camera bodies.  There’s a lot of info about this on the Internet, and also a lot of info about the use of “adapted lenses”.  “Legacy lenses” are lenses made in the past for other still photography uses, and that can include antique lenses.

One such antique lens is the Petzval type developed in the 19th century by Joseph Petzval.  The Petzval lens is quite simple and has very interesting “swirly bokeh”.  This means that the out of focus areas in the background look as if they are going round in a circle.  It’s quite unsettling the first time you see it.  It’s hard to find an original Petzval lens, but it’s now being remade in Russia for the Lomography company.  It costs over £500, so it’s a serious investment unless you are going to use it a lot.  I’ve found a much cheaper alternative!

It’s a Chinese lens with a focal length of 35mm and an maximum aperture of f1.7.  It’s made for CCTV cameras, and it’s fitted with a “C-type mount”.  This is where the “adapted lenses” thing comes in, as the lens comes with a C-type to micro 4/3rds adapter.  It’s made by a company called Fujian and I got it from Amazon for a smidge under £24.

You can see from this defocused image what the bokeh looks like.  There is very much of a “swirl”.

It does look a bit odd on my Olympus E-M10.  Even on such a small body the lens still looks tiny.  Some people refer to this sort of lens as a “toy camera lens”, though it is made for a serious photographic use.

It’s not at all sharp anywhere in the frame at f1.7 though it improves somewhat as you stop the lens down.   You do lose the swirly bokeh as you stop down though.  If you put a subject, such as this car aerial with ribbon on it, in a reasonably central place, you can use the background creatively.  The “swirlyness” fits with the curves of the ribbon.

I wanted to see how it handled bokeh highlights, so I found some honeysuckle that was quite a distance from the other plants in the background and shot at f1.7.  Centre sharpness does improve for closer objects, so the foregound plant isn’t actually too soft.  I like it!

I’m going to try it out for portraits, so keep an eye out for another post.  Spend over £500 on a newly-made old Petzval?  I think not!

Are you leading me on?

I am leading a landscape photography holiday in Shropshire for HF holidays in July.  I took the opportunity recently to revisit the planned holiday locations in order to choose the best places for photography.  It was an excellent few days and I am really looking forward to July.

One of the techniques we are going to be looking at is composing a landscape image, and one of the compositional devices is the use of what’s called “lead-in lines”.  These are foreground subjects that take your eye further into the image

This image from Ironbridge uses the post and railing next to a footpath to take us to the hidden right-hand end of the bridge.  Your eye then arcs back to the rest of the bridge’s arch.  I made sure the railing started from a corner of the frame so it had the greatest strength.  I converted the image to black & white to simplify it, as there were very many shades of green.

The curving eroded footpath in this shot of Clun Castle take us directly to the main body of the ruin.  I felt that this sort of image needed a bit of atmosphere, so I darkened the sky over the hills in the background and darkened the grass in the foreground.  The back & white conversion makes the image look a little bit more “of its time” than modern.

One of the locations we going to visit is the Long Mynd.  It’s a very interesting hill in photographic terms in that it’s flat and mostly featureless on the top with very few trees.  The views from the hill are spectacular though!  The lead-in line here is a bit more subtle.  It’s the footpath coming in from the bottom right-hand corner.  It takes us to the much brighter track up the nearby hill and also to the road curving down to the left. There are some delightful recession planes in the distant hills.

Further travels with a compact camera.

Recently I spent a few days down on the UK’s delightful Dorset coast.  We were travelling light on our walks so I only took one small camera.  It was my Panasonic Lumix TZ-70 travel zoom compact.  (The TZ-70 is known as the ZS-50 in the USA.)  It’s a very practical little thing with a zoom range from 24mm to 720mm equivalent.  The small sensor means the the image quality isn’t ever going to be stellar, but it’s really useful having such a focal length range in such a small camera.

On the Dorset coast there’s a place called Winspit which has an old stone quarry system.  It’s a fascinating place to (very carefully) look round, and it has photographic potential too.  There’s not that much light once you are inside, so I popped the camera on to a rock shelf, set it to 24mm, and used a 0.6 second shutter speed.  A black and white conversion from the RAW file in Lightroom and an HDR lift in Nik HDR Efex Pro gave the moody look I wanted.

One of the highlights of the coast in that area is the natural rock arch of Durdle Door, but to get the best image the light needs to be right.  The light on Durdle Door itself was a bit flat, so the beach was my next subject.  The waves have caused some lovely S-shaped curves on the beach and they are great composition aids.  I used the 720mm end of the zoom range to get the framing right, and I was very careful to have the curve starting in one corner and ending in another.  The two people give a sense of scale.

One evening we popped in to the town of Swanage to have a meal.  The sun was setting as we wandered around the town and the sky went an interesting colour. Sunsets are classic subjects for photography but it’s worth thinking about how the sunset is affecting things other than the sky.  The water in the harbour was tinged with red.  Once again I used the 720mm end of the zoom range to capture just a small part of the light on the water.  It looks like it’s on fire.

I’ll be talking about how to look for this type of image on the photography holiday I’m leading in Shropshire in July for HF Holidays.  There’s no coast there but the principles are the same, and it doesn’t matter what sort of camera you use.

Oxfordshire Artweeks: light entertainment #2

In a previous blog post I mentioned that Oxfordshire Artweeks was coming.  Well, it’s almost upon us!  Once again my show is at The Piano Gallery in Faringdon, and it runs from from 6th May to 13th May.  Do pop along for a chat if you can.  I can’t be there on 6th May as I am running a workshop for the RPS in Bath.

I have some new work showing the use of camera movement.  This one, of reeds and water, is a favourite.

This camera movement image is, like the other one, a wet-chemistry photographic print mounted on aluminium “Dibond” and finished with acrylic.  This high quality composite combines a light weight with optical elegance.  The quality has to be seen to be believed.

For more details of my Artweeks show click here.