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

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Studio or outdoors?

There’s a discussion in portrait photography circles about whether it’s better to use a studio, and thus have complete control of the lighting, or better to use the natural light outdoors.  I’ll use some examples from a recent family portrait shoot at my portrait photography studio near Swindon to show why I use both.

I’ve got lots of studio lights to choose from, although most of the time I try and keep my lighting simple.  This makes it easier (and faster) to set up, and gives me greater flexibility as to where I place the person who is being photographed.  That flexibility is more important with kids, who tend to be more energetic than adults.

"2 light portrait" by Derek Gale

This portrait uses 2 lights.  She’s looking towards a large softbox, and the second light is to my left brightening the right side of her face.  She’s got a really good enigmatic expression, and there’s good separation between her and the softly out of focus grey background.

"In the spotlight" by Derek Gale

The same two lights were used for this shot of her brother.  He’s looking out at the camera so there are 2 catch lights in his eyes.  He was doing some excellent dance moves in the studio, so I put in a spot lighting effect when I was editing the images in Photoshop and punched the colour up a bit.

That’s the studio, what about outdoors?

"Top shade 1" by Derek Gale

The weather on the day of the portrait shoot was sunny.  Placing people in direct bright sunlight can give hard shadows, so here I’ve put him in what’s called “top shade”.  He’s out of the direct sun but there’s soft reflected sunlight on his face.  He’s quite a way from the background so it’s rendered quite out of focus.

"Top shade 2"

His sister, under the same beautiful “top shade” lighting, is much closer to the background so there’s still a lot of detail in it.  The texture of the wood acts as an excellent contrast to her pale skin and blond hair.  Her dark top absorbed light and gave some extra modelling to the right side of her face.

"Top shade 3" by Derek Gale

They also brought their dog along to the shoot.  I wonder what he thought of it all?

So, studio or outdoors?  As you can see the studio gives great results, and the great outdoors gives images that complement those from the studio.  Using both gives me the best of both worlds!

A deconstructed air bubble.

I recently had to produce an image to go with others in a set I am submitting for a photographic distinction.  The set of images is mostly very abstract, so I wanted something that had some reality but also had significant abstract elements.

"The paperweight" by Derek Gale

This glass paperweight with a blue and white glass base and a big air bubble in the middle caught my eye.  I’ve used it for photography before but kept the air bubble out of view.  Safety note: It doesn’t normally live on the window sill because it focuses the sun and acts as big burning lens!

I decided to photograph the air bubble with the blue base as the background, so I got out my trusty Sigma EX 50mm macro lens and took a few test shots.  The first thing I noticed was that the bubble acted as a lens and gave a fisheye view of the world around it.  This was both a useful thing and a real pain.  I was lighting the bubble with a remotely fired flash pointed at the ceiling and I kept getting the ceiling light in the bubble!  Clearly I need to be a bit more sophisticated…

I placed the paperweight on a large piece of blue patterned fabric and then hung another bit of fabric, red this time, off to one side.  I found a large clear glass bottle filled with green glass beads and put that at 90 degrees to the red fabric.  I set the flash up to shoot partly through the bottle and partly shoot on to the red fabric.  The camera needed to be pointed down to get the base in shot, and I was at the limit of focusing due to the lens hitting the glass body of the paperweight.

"Air bubble" by Derek Gale

Again I needed to do a few test shots and adjustments, this time to get the exposure and composition just right.  The air bubble captured all of the surrounding materials, and I think it looks a little bit like a spherical face.  This image went well with my other images and was the final piece in my submission jigsaw.

This sort of excercise is a test of photographic imagination and ingenuity.   Why not try something like this yourself?

Hot stuff!

Photographing fire and flames can be inspiring.  Fires are like living things.  They grow, change and move, always presenting a new shape to the camera.

Before I properly get into this post I’ll just give you a quick health warning.  Fire is hot (doh!), so if you take pictures of it be careful, both with yourself but also with your camera.  Long exposures of large flames can let a lot of heat into your camera as well as light, and this has the potential to damage the sensor.

"Fire 1" by Derek Gale

The first image is from a wonderful Fire Art evening held in Oxford.  There were all manner of flaming devices but this one produced regular bursts of spectacular flames.  I had to wait a while to get the pattern then shoot as quickly as I could when a burst came.  The swirls and turbulence made for a great shot. It looks a bit like a weather system, or even an eye.

"Fire 2" by Derek Gale

This is a bonfire at a public fireworks display in Faringdon, Oxfordshire.  The heat was intense, and everyone kept stepping backwards as the fire got bigger and hotter.  It was taken with a telephoto lens to isolate just part of the fire.  The bonfire had lots of wooden pallets and it’s these that are burning, but it does look a bit like a burning building.

"Fire 3" by Derek Gale

Here, instead of focusing on the fire, I’ve used it as a background for a candid portrait of a spectator.  The long lens has given a nicely out of focus background and allowed me to crisply capture the bristles of his beard and his eyebrows.

"Fire 4" by Derek Gale

In this image a fire dancer is whirling flaming torches around on the end of ropes.  I used a 2 second exposure to ensure that I captured the full figure-of-eight cycle of the dancer’s movement.  It was handheld, and the camera shake makes the background soft and non-distracting.  It makes for a beautiful almost abstract image.

"Fire 5" by Derek Gale

Finally, another shot from Oxford.  This time I’ve copied and reversed it in Photoshop, to produce a symmetrical image.  With these images it’s a little bit like a “Rorschach Inkblot Test”.  You can see many things: a dancer, flowing fabric, an atom bomb explosion, a red jellyfish, etc.  I see all of those and many others too.

So, photographing fire and flames is fun, and you get to keep warm too!

Follow the bouncing ball…

Imagine the scenario.  You’re walking along a beautiful beach on the Gower Peninsular in Wales and you come across a beach ball that’s blown away in the breeze.  You now have several options: to play an impromptu game of beach football, to pick it up and run away, or to get out your camera and take some pictures of it.  Being a photographer, and always having a camera with you, you plump for the last option.  You use the beachball for a little experiment in composition.

Photography courses by Derek Gale

"Beachball 1" by Derek Gale

Here the ball, lit from the side/back, is dead centre which isn’t always the best place for your main subject.  The image’s centredness (is there such a word?) is softened by the ball’s reflection and shadow, and by the interest offered by the background cliffs and their reflections.  The highlight on the ball is also well off centre.

"Beachball 2" by Derek Gale

Dropping down lower and moving closer makes the ball much bigger in the frame.  The ball is no longer dead centre, though it is centred left to right.  You can still see the cliffs, but the top of the ball breaks the line of their bottom edge.  This makes the ball an even more important compositional element.  It’s now quite hard to tell the size of the ball as the scale clues are missing.

"Beachball 3" by Derek Gale

Moving round to the other side of the ball, it’s seen from a position that’s not as low or as close as the previous image.  Now well off centre, the ball is lit from the side/front so the shadow is in a different direction.  The lower camera position offers more options about the amount of beach to show.  The people walking past in the background give good context and tell more of a story.

"Beachball 4" by Derek Gale

Looking down on to the beach, the ball is placed in the bottom right corner and the horizon’s been excluded. The sky is reflected in the wet sand at the top of the frame so you still get the idea of a lovely sunny day at the seaside.  The wind wobbling the ball has given a bit of motion blur which ties in well with the the diagonal movement of the water.

"Beachball 5" by Derek Gale

This final image is looking out to sea.  Using a wide angle lens has given some distortion to the ball’s roundness.  It’s like it’s stretching to escape and be free to travel the open seas.  Cropping off the bottom of the ball helps with this impression as it ties it to the edge of the frame.  The viewpoint chosen shows the target in the distance that the ball is aiming for; the tip of Worm’s Head, centred left/right, looking like a gun-sight.

It’s fascinating how the story told in the images changes as the viewpoint and composition change.

Just a ball on the beach?

 

Here comes the sun: Part 2

I have mentioned before just how powerful images can be if you ignore the old advice from Kodak to, “Always have the sun behind you”.  Images where you point the camera towards the sun, or other bright light, are called “contre-jour” from the French for “against the day”.  It’s best to keep the direct light of the sun out of view in this type of image as it can reduce image contrast.   It’s also safer, because looking directly at the sun can be dangerous.

"Statue & pigeon" by Derek Gale

This image of a statue at Greenwich Observatory in London was taken with a Panasonic FZ-50 superzoom compact.  It shows how this technique can reduce shadow detail, and often produces a silhouette.   The cobwebs need cleaning off, and the pigeon on his hat is the final indignity.

"Canopy outline" by Derek Gale

This is a sort of anti-silhouette.  It’s of an aircraft canopy shot at an aircraft museum in California.  Shooting into the light has shown the wonderful pattern of scratches on the Perspex, and there’s a great highlight curve at the top.  The background was in shadow so has rendered very dark.

"Complex tail" by Derek Gale

Another shot from the same museum.  It’s of the tail of an in flight refuelling plane.  Turning it into a silhouette has taken away  the context and it makes it harder to tell what it is, especially as the tail is more complex than a regular aircraft.  Adding a bit of mystery to images is a good thing.

"Garden sculpture" by Derek Gale

This image is a bit mysterious too.  It’s actually of a sculpture in a garden.  I used a simple compact digital camera, and dropped down low to get lots of sky in the composition.  I made sure that the sun was behind one of the axe shapes to reduce flare.  I increased the contrast a bit in Photoshop to make it punchier.

"Brandy Cove, Gower" by Derek Gale

This final image does not have the sun in it, but does have very bright sunlight reflecting off wet sand.  It’s a contre-jour landscape image taken at Brandy Cove on the Gower Peninsular in South Wales.  I really liked the interlocking shapes made by the silhouetted rocks, the pools of water, and the variations of brightness across the glistening sand.

Get out with your cameras on a sunny day and have a great time playing with this technique.