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

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Steet life in Portugal.

I’m just back from a couple of weeks touring round Portugal.  We had an excellent time but it was very strange to get back to the UK last weekend (1st October) and find the weather was the same as it was in Portugal: 29C!

I had decided to travel light in a photographic sense, so took my Samsung WB650 superzoom travel compact and my Panasonic GF1 with the 20mm lens.  Both were small, and very useful for street photography.  Many of the places we went to had a lot of tourists, so someone with a camera was not too conspicuous (most of the  time), but more of that later…

"Watching the students" by Derek Gale

The University year had just started in Portugal so there were a lot of students taking part in new academic year activities.  This portrait was taken, with the GF1, in a square in the city of Coimbra, where there was a traditional students’ band performing.  The band was being videoed and there was quite a crowd watching.  I spotted this man standing alone in the entrance to a pensao.  It’s not clear from his expression whether he approved of what was going on or not.

"Triangle of caps" by Derek Gale

These three men were walking together in Lamego near the Douro Valley.  I was fascinated by their “uniform” of dark clothes and  cap; it was over 30C at the time.  They were taking an interest in everything and spent a while looking at two workmen digging a hole in the road.  They were walking together but weren’t always close together.  I waited till they made a good shape, with their bodies linked by their shadows.  I like the way their arms are in almost the same position but their legs are very different.

"High Noon" by Derek Gale

This image, of a train guard and a cleaner reflected in the train window, was shot in Pocinho.  It’s literally at the end the line from Porto along the very scenic Douro river valley.  The town had a Wild West feel about it, with a couple of cafes, an abandoned narrow-gauge railway, and a very bleached out look to the landscape.  I’ve reduced the saturation to match.  The guard wore various tools of his trade on his belt, and here he was standing a bit like a cowboy.  They were having a vigorous discussion about some aspect of the train’s cleanliness.

"Just one little push..." by Derek Gale

Here is the Douro river this time in Porto.  You can see a Port wine transport boat on the river, now in use carrying tourists, and the Port wine lodges in the background.  There were a lot of tourists around, and clearly that can attract crime.  These two Tourism Patrol officers were studying something over the edge quite intently, and the mischievous thought went through my mind that one little push could get both of them into the river.  I decided against it.

"Secrets" by Derek Gale

I mentioned that there was a lot of student activity in Portugal.  Part of that seemed to involve the senior students humiliating the new students.  In Evora and Coimbra what we saw looked good-natured. In Porto there seemed to be more of an edge.  The new students were wearing yellow T-shirts and scarves and the older ones their black academic dress, including large black cloaks.

There was a very large group of students by the side of the river in the very busy town of Vila Nova de Gaia opposite Porto.  Some senior students were doing something to a younger student behind a barrier of dark cloaks.  I took this image with the GF1 and a moment later the girl on the left had run up and was screaming at me, and I mean screaming.  I assume she wanted me to not take any pictures. She was too late of course… Surely if you are doing something that you don’t want people to take pictures of you shouldn’t do it in a very public place in broad daylight?

It’s all part of the fun of street photography!

5 minutes of sunlight.

Now that autumn is fast approaching (or is here already!) the angle of the sunlight coming into the house has changed quite a lot.  It’s now much more glancing, and glancing light gives better shadows and texture.  I noticed, while popping out to the studio, that the light across our oak dining room table was delightful, so I played the shadows game.

"3 fircones" by Derek Gale

The first image is the shadows of three fir cones.  They’ve got lovely irregular shapes and nice sharp outlines.  The angle of the light has picked up the texture of the wood, and the shadow of the window frame gives a good dark edge to the image.

"Candlestick shadow" by Derek Gale

Next is the shadow of a candlestick.  I placed it so that it was less of a dominant compositional element than the cones were.  Now, the shadow of the window frame is a major component instead of just the frame for the edges.  Converting to black and white made it more of a pattern image.

"Light and wood" by Derek Gale

This image cried out to be in colour.  It’s the diffraction pattern made by the sunlight shining through a glass paper weight.   I’ve warmed it up a bit in Photoshop so that the reds of the wooden table sing out.  It’s now an abstract of wood grain and swirls of light.

"Green glass" by Derek Gale

For this last image I allowed the sunlight to shine through a bottle fill of green glass pebbles and marbles.  In one of the pebbles there’s a tiny image of the window, and you can see flashes of colour, especially red, from the marbles.  The bright sunlight really brought the glass to life.

And then, almost as soon as it had arrived, the wonderful light had gone.  Clouds had ended my 5 minutes of fun.

Moral: always take your photographic chances.

“Please replace rope if removed”

Recently I went for a walk by the River Thames near Buscot Weir.  There was no sign of David Walliams swimming past on his way to London though.  It was one of those days when the weather was a bit on and off, so the sun was out part of the time and hiding behind clouds part of the time.  It made choosing the right White Balance and Exposure settings harder, but that’s what makes photography such fun.

"Reed silhouette" by Derek Gale

I took advantage of a bright but cloudy sky to capture a silhouette of a reed on the riverbank.  I exposed for the sky so all detail in the reed disappeared.  There was very little wind, so it wasn’t moving around very much which let me get a crisp outline.

"Sign" by Derek Gale

I liked this hand-written sign on a fence post.  It had clearly been written over previous similar wording which had faded due to weather and time.  The “if removed” bit was new however, but seemed a bit superfluous.  The texture of the wood was great, and was enhanced by the angle of the sunlight.  I like finding these sort of signs and trying to understand the stories behind them.

"Water movement" by Derek Gale

At Buscot Weir there is a sluice where water runs into the Weir Pool.   This pool is quite unusual on the Thames and is a popular place for “wild swimming”.  The water going over the sluice takes on some really good shapes.  I concentrated on part of the water in the shade so the contrast between light and dark wasn’t too large, and used a long(ish) exposure of 1/16th of a second to show the water’s movement.  I needed to wedge the camera firmly on a bridge post to avoid camera shake.

"Rushing abstract" by Derek Gale

I then took some images using camera movement rather than subject movement.  These are rushes growing in the middle of the river.  Standing on a bridge I moved the camera up and down rapidly using a long(ish) shutter speed, this time of around 1/30th of a second.  The water has gone milky looking, and the rushes have formed a lovely abstract pattern of green and white.

So, a lovely walk at Buscot Weir.  It’s a great place for photographic training, which is why I run Photo Treks here.  Why not sign up to “Writing with Light”, the Gale Photography newsletter, to be kept up to date with Photo Trek dates?

Tripping the light fantastic: Part 3.

I’ve posted before about how changing the lighting type and angle can make a big difference in portrait photography.  Here are some examples of the effect of different light sources; studio lights and daylight, and how they can be balanced to give an intriguing look.

"Diffuse studio lighting" by Derek Gale

This first image was shot with quite diffuse studio flash.  The light was bouncing off lots of white surfaces and this gave a gradual brightness change from one side of her face to the other.  There’s a nice single catchlight in her eyes, and the softness of the look contrasts well with the geometric lines and texture of the wall behind her.

"Daylight" by Derek Gale

This next image was shot with just natural light coming in through the studio window.  There’s a much greater change of brightness across her face, with the shadow side being much darker.  I asked her to turn her head so that her right eye was still catching the light well, and to give a small light area on her right cheek.  Her face contrasts very nicely with the black background.

"Balanced flash/daylight" by Derek Gale

This third image uses studio flash and daylight.  I set the exposure so that the background, lit by daylight, would be underexposed, and so that her face, lit by studio flash, would be properly exposed.  The balance of brightness between her face and the darker background creates a different mood.

Same person, 3 different looks, just by simple lighting changes.

My, how different it looks!

When taking photographs your choice of viewpoint and lens makes a huge difference.  Many of you will have digital compact cameras with large zoom ranges, and it’s worth taking a single subject and looking at how it changes as you change the lens focal length (zoom), and also how it changes as you change your viewpoint.  Doing that will help you take better images when you are on your travels.

Below is a series of images where I have changed the lens focal length and changed my viewpoint.  They are of some lobelia plants which are about 2 feet tall.

"Lobelia 18 mm" by Derek Gale

In this first image I used a very wide angle lens, 18 mm, and dropped down to ground level.  Because of the effect of perspective the plants look very tall indeed, and the background includes lots of sky.  The image shows the plant in its surroundings.

"Lobelia 63 mm" by Derek Gale

Moving the viewpoint up a bit and changing to a lens that has a field of view narrower than the human eye, about 63 mm, gives more isolation to the lobelias.  The sky has gone so the background is now just the hedge and the plants in between are less distinct.  The image is more like a plant portrait.  This focal length is good for people portrait photography too.

"Lobelia 300 mm" by Derek Gale

This image has been taken with a 300 mm lens.  It’s the equivalent of the telephoto zoom on some superzoom compact cameras.  The background hedge is now very out of focus, and the lobelia plants look as if they have been cut out.

The images above were taken from a constant direction so the lighting is constant relative to the camera.  It was falling from behind me.  I moved round to see how it would change with backlighting.

"Lobelia 300 mm" by Derek Gale

Still taken with the 300 mm lens and a little bit closer to the lobelia, the image now looks very different.  The background is now very soft.  The backlighting has really lifted the image.

Having taken the shot of the lobelias, I moved my camera a little and took this image of another type of plant.  The backlighting on the flower looked great, and I used a closer plant to give an out of focus area which softened the contrast on the other flower heads.

So, you can see that zooming your lens and changing your viewpoint changes the image a lot.  Get out and have a practice.