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

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It’s a matter of convergence.

On a recent photography holiday I led for HF Holidays, we discussed converging verticals and how to fix them. Converging verticals happen when you are at ground level close to the base of building and use a wide-angle lens to get the whole building in.

This example, of the Musuem of the Gorge in Ironbridge, Shropshire, shows what happens.  I used an 18mm wide-angle lens, stood close to the base of the building, and pointed the camera up.   I was closer to the base of the building than the top, so the base looks bigger and the top looks smaller.  This has the effect of making the sides of the building, which should be vertical, appear to converge at a point outside of the frame.  The building seems to be leaning backwards.

So how do you fix this?  Well, there are various methods:

You can use a longer focal length lens and get further away from your subject.  This means that the distance from you to the base of the building and you to the top of the building are more equal.

You can also try and get higher up, again to equalise the distance between you and the top and bottom of the building.

You could use a special lens called a “shift lens”.  These are very expensive and uncommon, so are not really a practical option for most photographers.

You can correct the perspective distortion in Photoshop.  You do need to leave plenty of space round your subject to allow for the cropping.

In this second image I have moved further away, used a 36mm lens, and got higher up.  The sides of the building are now parallel with the image sides and it looks much more natural.

You could, of course, not worry about such things at all and just use the converging verticals to emphasise the size of the building.  This castle tower in Clun is an example.  The convergence makes it look much bigger than it does in real-life (whatever that is!).

You need hands.

In portrait photography one of the things that needs a bit of thought is how to deal with the subject’s hands.  If you aren’t careful they can look a bit odd and unnatural.  Some people suggest hiding them behind the subject, or asking them to put their hands in their pockets.  I reckon that you can get interesting images by concentrating on just the hands, and ignoring the rest of the person!

This potter at an art exhibition was concentrating very hard on getting the top of the pot perfect, so wasn’t at all bothered about me.  Their hands are a lovely shape, showing control and precision, with each hand supporting the other.

These are the hands of a naval trainee standing at ease.  They were at an event to honour veterans of the WW2 D-Day Normandy campaign.  There’s a very relaxed look to the hands, yet they show discipline.  I’ve dropped the black level down so that the hands are shown against a plain dark background.

A hand in (almost) a classic “karate chop” position.  Karate translates as “empty hand” so it’s a visual pun.  The hand, whilst saying it is empty, is not empty, so it’s a visual paradox as well.  It’s a bit like “This page intentionally left blank”.  Oh the fun you can have with fridge magnets!

Hands a problem in portrait photography?  Not if you get rid of the body…

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.