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

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You’ve got to move fast!

I’m running a workshop about “Movement in photography” on 4th Sep at the RPS in Bath.  You can book online here.  If it’s too close to the date to book online you can call them on +44 (0)1225 325733 and book by phone.

One of the things we are going to be covering on the day is the use of small electronic flash units (Speedlights) to stop movement, such as this dropped white cotton glove.


In the image above I used two Nikon flash units turned down to 1/128th power.  The flash duration at that power level is only about 1/40,000th of a second, so it’s easy to stop movement.  Each flash had a coloured gel on it, one red and one green.  In a darkened studio I set the shutter to Time and dropped the glove, triggering the flash with a radio flash trigger button in my hand.  It took a bit of practice to get the timing right…


Here are nine images from a number of drops with the glove at different stages of the fall.  I made a new blank image in Photoshop that was three times the width and height of each image.  I copied each image into the new image, and, using guides to get them aligned, made this array.  A black and white conversion made it less circus-like.  (I know they aren’t all the same way round!)  It’s a sort of homage to the Bechers.

Hope to see you there!

A post about post-processing.

In my last blog post I showed some images where I had allowed the camera to do some image processing for me by using an Art Filter.  Here I’ve done the processing after capturing the image.


Here’s the uncropped basic image.  It’s of a rock, lightly resting on some other rocks, on “The Roaches” in Staffordshire.  I liked the delicacy of the contact between the rocks, and wondered about the process by which the top rock got where it is.  The weather was quite overcast, with a grey sky.  The sky was, however, quite bright compared to the foreground rocks.


The first stage of editing, in Lightroom, was to crop from the top of the image so that the amount of sky was smaller.  I’ve also cropped it in from the left-hand side a bit.  The proportions of the image now fit the proportions of the resting rock better.


In this first edited version I’ve added a graduated filter to the top of the image and reduced the exposure in that area.  It’s brought out the details in the clouds.  Next I’ve applied a Black & White conversion (Lightroom B&W Look 1).  I’ve then reduced the Blacks by about 25% to make the rocks more of a silhouette.  The final image has a bit more drama than the original.


In this second edited version I’ve applied a High Dynamic Range Lightroom (HDR) preset.  It’s darkened the sky and revealed the rock texture.  As before I’ve applied a graduated filter to darken the sky a bit more, and then another graduated filter on the rocks to reduce their colour saturation.  It’s got a completely different look to the other image.

Finally, I’ve imported the images into Photoshop to add the copyright watermark, resized them and sharpened them.

Some people never post-process their images.  I think they are missing out.

Playing around with an Art Filter

On a recent trip to England’s “Peak District” I reckoned that the landscape would look good in dramatic black and white.  I could, of course, do some post-processing, but what if I could get the effect I wanted in-camera?  My Olympus E-M10 has a setting that does just that.  In the Art Filters menu there’s one called “Dramatic Tone”, and it converts the image to dramatic/contrasty black and white.  The image is saved as a processed jpeg, but don’t worry, I also saved an unprocessed RAW file.


I took along my new Olympus 9-18 mm wide-angle zoom lens.  It’s nice and sharp, light, and small (like most other Micro 4/3rds lenses).  The zoom range let me get the right proportions for the rocks in the foreground of this shot on The Roaches, a  fabulous millstone grit ridge.  I had noticed this small tarn on our outbound ridge walk leg, but it was windy so the surface was full of small waves.  On our return route the wind had dropped, so it was nice and smooth allowing a good reflection of the sky.


The millstone grit on The Roaches has eroded into extraordinary shapes, some resembling faces and animals.  Different layers of the rocks have differing hardness, so many rocks show significant erosion banding.  Here I’ve pushed the lens, set on 9mm, into a narrow gap between the rocks.  The banding and the black and white treatment have given an almost abstract look to the image.


On our way home we visited the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas, Stafforshire.  It’s a fascinating and moving place and probably merits a blog post of its own, but here’s a single image using the “Dramatic Tone” Art Filter setting.  There are some weather shelters dotted around the site, and they are being fitted with exhibits.  This shelter had a display table in the centre, but not much natural light, so there was a stainless steel “light pipe” coming from the roof to illuminate the table.  I flicked the E-M1o’s screen down so I could compose, and pushed the camera, still with the 9-18 mm lens on, into the light pipe.  It’s now a dramatic black and white abstract.

Those Art Filters aren’t just for playing with, they are great for serious photography too.

No lenses over 300mm

Yesterday I went to the Wimbledon tennis championships as we had tickets for the Ladies’ semi-final on Centre Court.  There are many lists of things at Wimbledon and one of those things is “no lenses over 300mm”.  A 300mm lens makes it look about 5-6 times closer than the human eye.  I suppose it’s to stop you taking close-in shots of the players, unless you are an accredited press photographer.  Some of the press photographers were using lenses much longer than 300mm!

I took my Olympus E-M-10 with a Panasonic 45-150 zoom lens.  The 150mm end is equivalent to 300mm, so I was within the rules.


From where we were on Centre Court the lens’ zoom wasn’t long enough to get close in shots of the players, and the backgrounds were very fussy, with lots of crowd faces.  The practice courts were better, and here is John McEnroe showing Milos Raonic how to hit a ball.


On Centre Court it was easier to focus on the people who make the event run so smoothly.  Here’s a very alert ball boy.


After every game, serving military personnel come on to the court edges to act as crowd security.  This guy had a very military bearing.  The background is simple with no distractions.


Late in the afternoon we watched the Men’s Doubles semi-final and I was looking for a simple composition.  The player’s shadow on the grass court gave me just what I wanted.

No lenses over 300mm?  No worries.

This means curtains for Flash ‘Arry!

I was giving my “Movement in Photography” talk at a photo club recently and, whilst talking about use of flash and long shutter speeds, I was asked if I used first or second curtain flash synchronisation.  So what does this mean, how does it work, and what are the effects you get?

Flash synchronisation is to do with the timing of the flash while the shutter is open. First (or front) curtain synchronisation means that just as the shutter opens for the exposure the flash fires.  The shutter stays open for the ambient light exposure and then closes.   Second (or rear) curtain synchronisation means that the shutter opens for the ambient light exposure and then just before it closes the flash fires.

The type of flash synchronisation is a choice you can make when you want to use a long shutter speed to balance an ambient light exposure with a flash exposure AND your subject is moving, or you are moving the camera.  There’s no effect if your subject isn’t moving (and if you keep the camera still), but there may be an unwanted effect if you are taking portraits.  I’ll come on to that later.

The default setting for most cameras is first curtain synchronisation, and most of the time you can just leave it there.

So, what changes if you change your flash setting from front curtain to rear curtain?  In both of the images below my hand was moving diagonally upwards from the bottom left of the frame towards the top right.


This image was taken with the default, front curtain, setting.  The flash fired at the start of the ambient exposure, so there is a sharp flash-lit image of my hand overlaid with a blurry ambient-lit image going off to the right.  The light trail from the head torch goes up to the right too.


This image was taken with the second curtain setting.  The flash fired at the end of the ambient exposure, so there is an ambient-lit blurry image of my hand overlaid with a sharp flash-lit image further to the right.  The light trail from the head torch appears to go down to the left.

The main effect is that the apparent direction of movement for the first curtain flash is in the opposite direction to the actual direction of movement.  We intuitively want the light trail to follow rather than lead.  If you are photographing a moving car at night, and you want the rear light trails to appear after the sharp flash-lit car, then use second curtain to make them appear behind the car.

So if it gives a better impression of movement why wouldn’t you set your camera to use second curtain flash all the time?  Well, if you are taking portraits, even using the normal flash shutter speed of 1/125th of a second or thereabouts, it can cause problems.  Most modern cameras use TTL flash metering.  They fire a metering pre-flash just before the shutter opens and then measure the light coming back from the subject.  It all happens in the blink of an eye, and that’s the problem.  The pre-flash can make people blink, and if you have the flash set to second curtain you can pick up that blink, so your subject’s eyes are closed.  Sticking with first curtain can avoid this, as the pre-flash and exposure flash are so close together.

The “curtain” name came from a time when camera shutters had fabric in them, which looked a bit like curtains, and it’s sort of stuck, even though shutters don’t use fabric these days.

Don’t worry about the name, just have fun changing the settings and seeing what they do.