Thursday, 29 December 2011

A late Merry Christmas!

Sorry :) Better late than never so Merry Christmas! Hope you all had a good one. Happily I've recieved some added motivation photographically from two books I recieved as presents- The Photoshop CS5 Book for Digital Photographers by Scott Kelby and The HDR Book by Rafael Concepcion. Both these guys are incredible photographers and rock as authors of photography books. I know I'm gettin' old 'cos let's face it; when you're a kid books just get you that excited at Christmas. It's all toys and videos (yes I remember VHS!) back then, but I think it might be time to face it- I'm officially boring.

Anyway, hope Santa brought you what you wanted. I asked for a Canon EF 400mm f/2.8 IS II USM but apparently his insurance wouldn't cover the transport of such an item so... better luck next year, wink wink :)

Thursday, 1 December 2011

My image 'Layers' in North East Life Magazine

I was once again pretty psyched to see one of my images published this week, this time in North East Life Magazine (a regional mag produced my Archant Publishing.) I'd almost forgotten that I'd sent them  a selection of shots from across the North East as it was about 3 or 4 months back. NEL is always a good read, with articles on events and people from around Tyne and Wear, Durham etc. I was in a garden centre last Sunday and happened to pass a stand stacked with this month's issue. it always features some really great photography (hint, hint!) on a range of subjects, unsuprisingly featuring images of local landmarks and landscapes. Upon flicking through to the reader photos section I remember thinking "Oh ye, I wonder mine will ever get in here" with it taking several moment for me to realise I was staring at my own work! It went via something like "Hey that's quite nice" to "actually that looks a little like my shot" and eventually reaching "Wait a mo, that IS mine!" And sure enough there was a caption with my name and a bit of info I provided about the location and viewpoint etc. They actually got most of those detail wrong as it happens! It wasn't shot at Penshaw as the caption claimed but was in fact made from Grange Villa using a telephoto lens (70-200mm) and I was up taking it at dawn not dusk. You can read about that shoot on this blog (here's the link Still I was obviously thrilled to see my efforts were justified.

All I can say is it's a good job I didn't think that image was aweful before realising it was my own! Here it is:-   

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Lumiere 2011 is here!

If you don't know what Lumiere is (or don't live near Durham, NE England) then this won't mean much to you, but if you want to learn more head over to my 500px page and my blog there. The point is I'm really looking forward to seeing Durham lit-up again, it would be atmospheric even if I weren't a photographer, but the picture opportunites really make it something special. And Durham really is the ideal location! Check back here in the next few days as I'll post any images I think are worthy :)

Here is the link to the Lumiere webpage:-

Apparently it's better than ever this year!

Sunday, 6 November 2011

My top 10 tricks for getting awesome autumn shots!

Like most landscape photographers I would imagine, I love being out and about enjoying fantastic autumnal colours and the endless picture opportunities they offer. Last year was a particularly colourful one and I hoping for an equally impressive display of seasonal hues in the next few months.
       Whilst I’m no pro I thought it might be quite nice to put together a list of what I think to be the best ways of getting great autumn shots, making sure we get the most out of what nature is offering us. Below are my ‘Top Ten’ techniques for creating images to be proud of- get out and use them before all the leaves are gone and/or keep this page in your favourites until next year!
10) Try showing movement: I feel a little mean sticking this right down at number 10 as it can really be a great trick for producing abstract images with an extra ‘something’, but it may not be to everyone’s taste so here it is! Try using a slower shutter speed to introduce some movement into your shots. Since you’ll more than likely find yourself shooting trees, using a slower shutter value will show up any movement in the branches caused by wind. An exposure of around 1/30th sec will give you a slight blur to the leaves (depending on wind strength) while 1 sec or more and you can get some really abstract streaks of colour. This works if you haven’t got anything interesting in the scene before you to make you’re subject- focus solely on those autumn hues! 

 9) Shoot on dull days: A way of making use of whatever light you happen to be faced with. Whilst it’s lovely to have nice beams of strong autumn sunlight streaming into your shot, shooting on an overcast day, with the low contrast, can be a fantastic route to saturated colours. If the sky seems uninspiring, focus on the little details and shoot some leaves in close-up. Try adding a burst of flash to create a little contrast and a bit of sparkle to your subject.  

8) Shoot at dawn or dusk: the key to any great landscape photo, if not a little limiting on the number if images you are able to produce through the season (not everyone has time to do this often). If you have the opportunity, shooting at these times will give you those rich golds, reds and browns along with a dreamy glow, all caused by the directional light of the low sun. I love to photograph back-lit leaves at these times, which will give intense colour and great detail of the leaf structure. If you can make dawn or dusk, try early(ish) morning (on your way to work/school/university etc.) or late afternoon. That’s the brilliant thing about this time of year- the light is good for most of the day, with dawn fairly late and sunset early. Try combining this with no. 7…
7) Shoot into the light: aiming your camera into the sun gives amazing back and rim-lighting effects and doing this helps you get the most out of the directional light in no. 8 above. Obviously don’t look at the sun in your viewfinder (spare a thought for your eyes) or leave the lens pointing at it for too long (this can burn your shutter.) These sort of go without saying. Oh and watch out for flare- invest in a skylight or UV filter, pronto.

6) Use a warm-up filter: either on your lens or when in the digital dark room. These do what they say on the box- give your image a warmer tone, which works great with the already warm colours of the season. In Photoshop go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Photo Filter and select one of the warming filters. I usually use the 81 or 85 filters.
5) Even better than that- use your White Balance to get it right in-camera: this is one area where you don’t want to rely on your camera’s auto WB as all those reds and yellows will get it totally confused and you won’t get the look you’re after. Use the ‘Shade’ or ‘Cloudy’ presets depending on how warm you want your image to be. This is works well as it complements the naturally low kelvin values of autumn scenes. If you’re shooting film you’ll have to resort to no. 6.

4) Underexpose: I’m not getting into the on-going debate about whether in digital photography it’s better to under- or overexpose, because in this case it is absolutely a nice idea to under expose slightly, as this will give you nice saturated colours (as well as prevent blown-out highlights.) Don’t go crazy; try starting with -1/3 EV using your exposure compensation control (in P, Av and Tv modes) and working from there.
3) Without doubt, use a polarizer: Ok so we’re onto the top 3. Firstly you definitely want to be using a circular polarizing filter to reduce glare on leaves and give your precious colours a lift. This filter is a no-brainer for landscape photographers and should be in everyone’s kit bag; this case is no exception. Oh and it will cut the light entering your camera by about 2 stops, allowing you to blur water and branches with longer exposures, which is no bad thing as long as you have a good tripod.

2) Know your location: in at number 2 we have something I truly believe in- know the good spots from which to shoot. If you have a good idea of what might make some good autumnal photos before the colour shows itself you’re in for a better chance of getting the pics you want. Preparation is everything. Those stunning colours aren’t around for long so plan your images and get them while you can!

1) DON’T JUST MAKE THE COLOUR THE SUBJECT! : I think this merits 1st place- avoid the shots all the ‘happy snappers’ out there are getting and don’t make the sole focus of your image the autumnal colours themselves. A brightly coloured tree doesn’t necessarily make a good photo in its own right. Look for something, anything to photograph in the colourful surroundings. Even if it’s a little stream, or a person walking into the shot to show scale, or an animal interacting with the environment. Anything.  It’s easy to get carried away with all that colour and start snapping at everything, but get a clear idea of what you want in your mind and I can guarantee you images with impact! [Unless you’re a dog or an octopus or a fungus, in which case you probably won’t be able to hold the camera properly or indeed understand anything I’ve written here. Hey life’s difficult, get over it… : )]

I’d like to hear if you have any comments on the above list: do you agree with my ‘Top Ten’? Contact me by commenting here, or by leaving a message on my website, Flickr page, or 500px site (see right for the links.)

Happy shooting this autumn!
Peter  x

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Here's those AP Spotlight photos

As promised, here are those shots that were published in Amateur Photographer magazine a couple of weeks ago (if not slightly late!) It was great to see my work Published, particularly in a prestigious mag like AP. I was a little surprised that 'Evening Light' was chosen: whilst I've always liked it I wasn't sure if it was what the AP team were looking for, but obviously (and happily!) it must have made an impression.


'Evening Light'
All I've got to work towards now is the Spotlight Picture of the Week.... :  )

Monday, 17 October 2011

My Images in Amateur Photographer Magazine

I was pleasantly surprised to receive an e-mail this week informing me that some of my images have been used for the 'Reader Spotlight' section in the next issue of AP Magazine. What is meant by 'some' I do not yet know (I won't get this issue until Wednesday) but having tried several times over the last few years to have them publish my shots I feel an element of satisfaction that I've got some through! I've seen my photos in the 'Appraisal' column on a couple of occasions but it's been the Gallery I've wanted to get too. As I've said before I don't think I'm an amazing photographer, but It's nice to get some recognition from the experts. When I know what shots have been used I'll post them here so non-AP readers can take a look (if so inclined!)

Thursday, 22 September 2011

It happened again- twice!

In my post on 28th August I talked about one of my most notable faults as a photographer; my tendency to panic and run around like a headless chicken in fast-paced situations, particularly dawn or dusk where the light changes quickly. Well after writing that I promised myself that on my next shoot I’d take a far more ‘chilled’ approach- whatever happens, happens and so on. I was utterly convinced that things would get better:- all I had to do was make sure I scouted the location thoroughly before hand, get there nice and early so as to be set-up and ready when the magic happened (light-wise) and that should put me in a positive, relaxed, creative mind set. So did it work?
AS IF! A couple of weeks ago I once again managed to bribe a family member to drive me out to a location at dawn, this time a park not too far from where I live. I had loads of shots planned out in my head since I come here often and know it the environment well. One subject I knew I wanted to shoot (in fact this was what I’d come to shoot really) was a small, man-made waterfall on a tributary of the River Wear. I already had some nice shots of it in daylight and so knew it would look even better in the soft morning light.

Unfortunately my calm was shattered instantly upon arrival. The waterfall was gone. I don’t mean the water level was low, I mean the waterfall itself had vanished. “Well this is just bloody ridiculous!” I yelled at my long-suffering father. I’d only been here a couple of days before and everything was fine. Yes you might expect a landscape to change slightly (such as a change in tree colour or a drop in river level etc.) but you don’t assume that when you get out on location you’re going a find a huge hunk of it missing!
This turned out OK. The water looks good at least... 
The terracing isn't half as dramatic as the first waterfall
 Obviously the local council, in all their infinite wisdom, had decided that the stream needed better flood control and so had replaced the 4-foot single drop with terracing; far less photogenic. Bas****s! I took a few shots, none of which I am especially proud of, and then gave up feeling defeated. It wasn’t a very dramatic morning any way- it was only the low light I was after. Instead of going straight home though I turned my camera on the many swans that live on the river at Chester-le-Street. I’ve shot these before to but never in morning light. I also got some fairly usable shots of Lumley Castle, which stands looking quite regal behind the park. In fact I think I might return another morning to shoot it in more detail, but just my luck they’ll tear it down and move it to Sunderland before I get the chance… :  )
At least the light was looking good on these swans!

This guy looked majestic in the golden glow

These swan images were all shot with a 70-200mm lens

The sky got interesting just in time for this semi-sillhouette of Lumley Castle. at least I got something before they pull it down!

Item 2...500px!

I’ve just created my elf a 500px account. For those who don’t know what 500px is, it’s very similar to Flickr in that it’s a photo-sharing site, only it’s aimed more at pro and enthusiast photographers. Whilst I love Flickr I find the comments that many people offer are not all that constructive (actuall I’ve never had an especially Unconstructive comment but browsing the site as a whole it’s easy to see that it isn’t just a hand-out for keen photographers (people who really care about photography) but is also a dumping ground for Joe Public’s shots of his Aunty Ethel’s 90th birthday do- not really candidates for the next issue of National Geographic if you get my drift! The good thing about 500px is that it also offers a blogging facility which I plan to use alongside this blog so head over there now to see some new shots (there are only a couple at the moment but many more are on their way) and to see what I’ve got to say on the whole Flickr/500px debate. Leave a comment or two if you feel like it! As for the shots that are on there now, a post is due here soon describing the shoot (it’s at the Border Ridge on the English/Scottish Border) so watch this spot!
I really am looking for followers so if you like what you see sign up here or drop me line if you want to see something discussed. Here’s the link to the 500px page:-

Thanks all, talk soon,

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Tales of a stressy landscaper

Tribley Farm in Grange Villa, County Durham is fast becoming one of my favourite spots of the year to shoot landscapes. What I like about it is the wide open views to the east and the west, making it ideal for shooting both sunrises and sunsets. In the morning you can turn you camera to the west and shoot the dawn light hitting the landscape as the sun appears above the horizon and for evening shoots, it’s great to swing 180 degrees and capture the last light of the day illuminating the fields to the east.
            On this morning I chose to shoot towards the coast and get the ball of the sun as it appeared, with the landscape below it. Quite a simple task usually- all you have to do is set-up and wait, shooting the pre-dawn light whist you do so. Dawn is absolutely my favourite time to shoot- it’s quiet, calm and I love the sense of solitude you get from being one of the few people crazy enough to be out of bed at such a ridiculous hour! However, at the same time I tend to find it stressful. I do it every time; get up with loads of time to spare (like- up to 2 hours before dawn, depending on where I’m traveling to) get out on location (which I’ve usually scouted out in the daytime to plan my shots) set-up my gear and then start the wait. Yet every time the sun starts to show up I start panicking! I know it makes no sense, but I always find something wrong with my equipment at that key moment, or I decide I don’t like my shooting angle after all- or in the case of this morning, I’m suddenly bugged by flare.
You are always going to get some flare when shooting into the sun like this, even with a lens hood and UV/Skylight filter, but this time it was rendering many of my shots unusable and I couldn’t find the cause. I Ended up running up and down the length of the field I was in, trying to get a different angle, but nothing was helping. Being of a nervous disposition, this wasn’t making the experience all that enjoyable- they probably heard me swearing in Penshaw (about 10 miles away or something!) Eventually I concluded that it was something to do with my ND Grad Filter and upon inspecting it I found a small scratch that was showing up like hell with the lens stopped down. It wasn’t a problem at other times of day, but with the sun this low and shining straight down the lens… I removed the filter, concluding that I will need to invest in a new one and shot the rest of my images bracketed, so as to merge them later in Photoshop. See some of the morning's shots below.
It was around about now that my blood pressure started to rocket

I loved the mist that started to roll in- there was literally that one patch infront of the sun

Shot wide open at f/2.8 to trow the background out of focus
Also shot with a 70-200mm lens

Cropped to 5 x 4 - I figured if I could pretend I was shooting larger format film it would make me feel like a better photographer. Eat  your heart out Joe Cornish!
 It would seem fitting that for future dawn shoots such as this I should take the advice of some of my friends (yes I have some…) and “Chillax.” The term, whist not sounding wholly dissimilar to something you’d use to treat an ice burn (or constipation), seems to have a lot of meaning these day, especially to a stressed-out landscape photographer. After all a dawn shooter is probably that above all else- chilly.

Friday, 19 August 2011

A slightly tricky sunset shoot

The other day I finally found time to head out at dusk for a landscape shoot. This time I headed to a place called Waldridge, County Durham and back to a location I’d been a few days before during the day. I’d thought then that it would be a good spot to shoot in the Golden Hours (dusk or dawn) due to its open views looking both east and west. Plus there was a lovely big cornfield which looked great in bad light; I knew it would look stunning in more directional lighting.
I arrived about half an hour before the sun was due to set (I would have liked to have been there earlier but it wasn’t possible that day) and got set up. I was using my Manfrotto 190XPROB tripod with ball head in case I wanted to take a panorama; this set-up is just that bit easier to use for panos compared to my Camlink system.
It was around about now that I could see my problem. The light wasn’t doing quite what I wanted it to this evening; instead of a nice bright sun on the horizon, sending long beams of golden light onto the corn in my foreground the clouds that had now turned up from nowhere were diffusing the light to such an extent that much of the landscape looked very flat. There just wasn’t any contrast to speak of. I walked up and down the width of the field and changed lenses/focal lengths numerous times, but I couldn’t seem to get a composition that worked.  What made matters worse was the fact I was distracted by a bold looking deer who was peering at me over the next hill with an expression that could only be described as amusement! Would I be paranoid to assume it was laughing at me? Probably.
Composed of 3 images manually merged in Photoshop using layers

I liked the geometric patterns the wires created and the gradation of colour from firy red to purple-blue in the sky

Not sure if there's too much empty space on the left side. What do people think?
Anyway, I eventually decided that the best option was to cut out most of the foreground and make the illuminated clouds my main subject. I chose a longer set of focal lengths between 100 and 200mm and focussed of the coloured sky with the line of pylons leading into the distance. I actually found that the masts made quite good subjects in their own right, silhouetted against the fiery colours of the sunset; my shots ended up with quite a Texan feel to them, except these were power lines rather than oil wells! They’re quite industrial-looking images which I think actually have a fair bit of impact. Pylons aren’t beautiful but they are intriguing. Compositionally these photos aren’t perfect, but all can say is at least I came away with something to talk about!      
I was shooting with my Canon EOS 7D and because I wanted to isolate the horizon detail I shot the whole time with a 70-200mm lens set at f/5.6 (this lens’ sharpest aperture) As usual I used a cable release and hotshoe spirit level. Since the light levels were low I stuck to manual focus for most of the time and used the magnified view in live view to confirm focus.
Comments are welcome.
See ya…!

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

A really stressful coast shoot

Yesterday I spent the afternoon shooting at the coast at South Shields, Tyne and Wear. My location for the shoot was a small, isolated cove called (rather unimaginatively) ‘The Cove’ in rock climbing circles. I like this setting because it seems surprisingly little known and it’s rare that you see anyone in there (apart from the odd climber.) Great! A good location, a private setting where it’s unlikely to have people wandering through my shots, a nice overcast day with soft, wrapping light, what could go wrong? Well I’m a complete fool. That’s what! To my surprise and immediate frustration, when I got out my camera I found a glaring lack of quick release plate. Like a pillock I’d left it at home and what was more irritating was the fact it usually stays on my camera 100% of the time- I’d only removed it this time to make it easier to apply a screen protector to my LCD. I had the tripod, but no way of attaching my camera to it! Many expletives ensued since my main purpose for traveling to the coast was to capture the sea using slow shutter speeds during the day through via an ND filter. There was no possibility of getting the shots I was after shooting handheld because the shutter was going to be open for several seconds per exposure. I therefore had to improvise- I may not have a useable tripod but I still had my camera bag, a worthy camera support substitute. I climbed down into the cove and want straight to the water’s edge to see how I could position my gear safely, without everything I owned getting a bath! The main problem I had was the angle of the pebble beach- in this particular bay the beach is greatly undulated, with pebbles and shingle piled up in waves; getting the camera to lie straight wasn’t easy and I didn’t want the camera to flop forwards into a rock pool. I had my spirit level with me which helped and the 7D has a built-in virtual horizon, so combined they gave me a better idea of how well I was coping ‘tripodless.’
4 secs, f/32, ISO100 @ 73mm, Polarizer, ND8

For the first shot here the ground I had my bag rested on was particularly uneven and getting the horizon level was proving to be a bit of a nightmare:- I therefore opted to just take the picture and crop it later, which is what I did; on this occasion I thought a square crop worked well (6in x 6in.)

2 secs, f/22, ISO 100 @ 17mm, Polarizer, ND8

For this second image I was right down at the waterline, squatting amongst some rock pools. I was quite nervous as I didn’t know how fast I could react to the incoming tide (usually I could confidently grab the tripod legs and go.) I quickly managed to get a level shot this time, but I now couldn’t get the lens to stay level; it kept flopping forward. Inspiration! I pushed a pebble under the lens hood to hold it up for the duration of the exposure. I then cropped to 16:9 format and converted the image to mono. Both photos were edited entirely in Canon’s DPP software.
In the end I was quite pleased with the results of the shoot, although the imaging process was far from stress-free- I’ve never sworn as much in a long time! It just goes to prove however that with a little improvisation (and a little luck) you can make the most of a potentially lousy situation. Actually the lower-than-usual shooting height from the bag gave my shots an unusual perspective that I really like. I might even try it again sometime- fancy that…!

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Why I like 16:9 - Going Panoramic

If you've looked at my Photostream on Flickr recently (here's the you might have noticed that many of my newest images are cropped slightly differently. For these images I changed the crop dimensions to 16:9 inches so they appear longer and thinner- a little like fake panoramas. I've adopted this approach for a couple of reasons, namely because when cropped like this images perfectly match the dimensions of my computer monitor, which is of a widescreen format and this allows me and (since the majority of laptop screens and external monitors have gone wide these days) many others to view my images full screen. This automatically lends them more impact and really can make the viewer feel like they were there, in that scene at the time of shooting.

Cropping to a widescreen format really puts the viewer in the photo 
The technique works especially well for landscape shots, because of that panoramic feel (and it’s a landscape you’d usually make a pano of) but I’ve found myself using it in all sorts of situations, including close-up and macro photography. This brings us to the second reason I’ve found for cropping like this- it is an easy way of getting rid of any ‘junk’ in your shots- meaning any distractions in the shots you forgot to compose out when you fired the shutter- since the 16:9 format by nature reduces the amounts of foreground and sky visible and focusses the viewer’s attention on the middle ground of the photo.

 Try it and see what you think- it’s helped me bring new life to some photos I’d previously thought weren’t that great. 

Monday, 20 June 2011

The big question- Should I upgrade?

Peter Fenech
Is upgrading to an enthusiast camera worth it?

'Should I upgrade my camera' is the question most enthusiast photographers ask themselves often, probably because many assume 'stepping up' is the best option for improving their images. Now anyone who has gone ahead and bought something they deemed better than their budget camera will know that, for the most part, this isn't true; in fact since great photography relies on the photographer's in-depth understanding of their camera, getting a new, unfamiliar one could have the opposite effect. 
       I recently took the plunge and bought a new camera- a Canon EOS 7D, to work alongside my EOS 450D, but the whole process of doing so got me thinking about why exactly I wanted a new model- after all my old one still works fine, it takes pictures which is all you can wish for from a camera! I thought long and hard about whether it was worth the expense (the 7D is after all a fairly pricy object) and whether, by investing in it I was likely to increase the quality of my images. The answer obviously was yes, but I’ll tell you something; I bought it because I felt it was going to make my life as a photographer easier. I simply saw it as a new tool that would enable me to use skills I knew I possessed, but wasn’t able to get the best of with my lower-range camera. I didn’t think, as I get the impression many do, “oh great a new camera- I’ll let it do the work.” As fantastic as cameras are these days, they still aren’t able to read the photographer’s mind- they don’t know exactly what you want to get from a scene, they can only take a guess, which means no matter how advanced and modern yours is, you have to be the main input of the picture-making process. We should never rely on the camera to make the picture for us, because that’s just asking too much!
       Here’s a bit of insight: when a pro photographer (and I mean a true professional) buys a new camera, it’s not because they just want it as a new toy, it’s because they’re under the impression that the new features it has over their old models will actually help them in their day-to-day imaging- they’ll find photography easier with that camera. I recently read an article in Amateur Photographer Magazine which said that (and I paraphrase) for the amateur it’s all about the camera, but for the professional it’s the image that matters which once again made me question why I had bought my 7D. I remember wanting the camera for quite a long time, since it was released in-fact, so did I shell out all that money because I wanted something new to play with? After analysis (I tend to do a lot of self-analysing) I pleasantly concluded that, as above, I was mostly concerned about the image and getting as all the camera adverts tell you you’ll get, the ‘perfect picture.’ The 7D has a wider ISO range and much better noise performance than my 450D and has 19 cross-type AF points, both allowing me to capture better action images such as sports and wildlife, whereas the magnesium-alloy, weather-sealed body helps me shoot with more confidence in more extreme environments. The increase in resolution wasn’t what I bought it for but since it doesn’t equal more noise, I’m not complaining.  
I’m happy to say I’ve reached a point in my photographic career, where I have a greater understanding of the relationship between photographic skill and gear. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t enjoyed showing off my new camera, but what matters more to me now is results, regardless of what I’ve used to get them. To conclude, it’s my opinion that in any profession, not just photography, you should only consider upgrading your hardware when you feel your present equipment is holding you back to an extent that you can’t adjust your technique to compensate; if you still find yourself looking at the LCD and saying to yourself ‘that isn’t half bad’ it isn’t time to upgrade.