20 Jun 2016

Daft bunnies, squirrels and a new shop

You can’t be suspicious of a tree, or accuse a bird or a squirrel of subversion, or challenge the ideology of a violet.  Hal Borland

They're elusive little critters and their speed and agility outsmart me more times than not.
They’re elusive little critters and their speed and agility outsmart me more times than not.

As we’re not able to get away for a holiday this June, we decided to take the time off in short bursts instead, having a couple of long weekends where we vowed to try and get proper holiday-style days out – with picnics and everything.

Thankfully, for our first such long weekend, there was gorgeous warm weather.  It had been fabulously sunny over the weekend, but by the Monday and Tuesday, it had gone a bit more cloudy and humid and oppressive instead.  But we managed two proper full days out and without resorting to coats or waterproofs, which is always a bonus.

We went first to a new place for us; Mere Sands Wood Nature Reserve in West Lancashire, a Lancashire Wildlife Trust wetland nature reserve and it only cost £2 for parking all day.  It was a lovely place that we’ll certainly visit again.  You walk in a loop around the mere, mostly in woodland and there were bird feeding stations and hides at suitable positions, where you can sit and look at the various wildlife using the mere.  There had been kingfishers in residence a couple of days earlier and we sat waiting for a while at their favourite perch but didn’t see any evidence of them.  Regular visitors who came into the hide said they hadn’t been seen for the last 3 days and must have moved on.  Shame, I would have been enthralled to see them that close, I’ve only had two fleeting glances of a kingfisher before.

As we were already near the Merseyside coast, we headed off to Formby Point where there is a reserve for red squirrels and we haven’t been for a while.  It had been a hot day and the National Trust wardens in attendance said it was too hot for the squirrels, so they hole up in their dreys during the day and come out when it cools.  As it was now around 5pm and there was a nice sea breeze, we were hopeful for a siting.  Thankfully, they did decide it was time to emerge and find some food, so we did see many of them scampering around in the trees.  They make it a little easier to spot them as their claws do make a scratching sound in the trees, so if you stand still and quiet, you can locate them by sound.  They move very fast though and many of the photos I got were of disappearing tails or a blur of movement.

The little chap I did get decent photos of (below in the gallery), albeit it a distance up a tree, seemed quite curious about me and kept coming back for a look, so that made it easier for me as at least he stood still for a few moments.

New shop:

My new smart phone responsive web site and shopping cart.
My new smart phone responsive web site and shopping cart.

The time came when I could put it off no longer.  My on-line shop was using a shopping cart system that was now three whole generations behind the times.  Google tell me when I advertise, that I’m missing business because I don’t have a mobile phone compatible site and well over 40% of my advert-clickers do so on a smart phone (which means that they probably don’t actually ‘click’ anything at all).  Add to that the impending PayPal increased security requirements, I decided it was time to look that elephant in the room right in the eye.  I might even go right over there and give his damn trunk a tweak!

So after much hair pulling and gnashing of teeth, my new, smartphone responsive and now fully secure site has been officially launched.  There’s a great deal to it and it takes a huge amount of work to get it how you want it, hence not much new jewellery to report.  Fine tuning pages for the new design will be a work in progress for a little while yet, but all the major stuff has been addressed – and I believe it’s working well.

If you’d like to try it out, I’d welcome any comments as there’s limited value in my own testing as I know how it works and what to expect and if you would like to make a purchase, there’s a launch coupon for 10% off across the shop (gift certificates are excluded, minimum spend £10), valid until the end of June 2016 – just enter LAUNCH10 in the appropriate box in the basket.


You’ll need to view the gallery to see the daft bunnies.


17 May 2016

Will I ever figure it out?

“A lot of photographers think that if they buy a better camera they’ll be able to take better photographs. A better camera won’t do a thing for you if you don’t have anything in your head or in your heart.”     Arnold Newman

I’ve been taking photographs for a very long time now, but I still have a perpetual and on-going battle with some aspects of image production.  The word battle is perhaps rather negative and might give the wrong impression – perhaps tussle would be better.

My current (and I’m prepared to bet that I’ve blogged about it before too) opponent is image file formats and software and how to get the best possible image from the files you download from the camera.  I suspect this is a matter that will never be put to rest, due to the persistent and alarmingly fast march of technology.

Dropping some pounds:

I decided a while ago that I’d enjoy my photography more if I ditched some weight.  Whilst my own personal battle with the pounds is truly perpetual, thankfully the camera poundage was rather more easily fixed.  Upon delivery of my latest acquisition at the weekend, I reached a stage where I felt very happy with my current gear.  That doesn’t preclude the rather obvious caveat that if I had the pennies I could make myself even happier, but for now, I’m very content.  I think it’s perhaps the greater simplicity I’ve brought to bear on my gear selection that removes the dilemma of which lenses to take on any one given day.

I think an insect has laid some eggs in the flower at the bottom left and then glued the petals around them to keep them safe.
I think an insect has laid some eggs in the bluebell at the bottom left and then glued the petals around them to keep them safe.

I sold a couple of heavier lenses that overlapped considerably in their focal range and replaced them with one much lighter and smaller lens that covered a good percentage of their range – a net difference of around 600g lost from my bag.  So my lightweight Canon 100D body is paired with the ‘kit’ lens at 18-55mm, supplemented by its companion 55-250mm.  Both have Image Stabilisation and a ‘stepping’ motor which makes focus fast and almost silent – and the IS helps with my habit of preferring to hand hold, even though I’m already pretty steady.

The kit lens I have is an especially sweet copy and I’m very fond of it and the longer one, albeit only used a little yet, looks pretty good too.  I can do landscapes, stitching multiple shots, as required, for the panoramas I like to create (in place of the ultra wide lens I already sold to fund the camera body) and decently long shots at 250mm for wildlife etc. I also have various combinations of extension tubes and close up filters to allow me to get close to little things, something else I enjoy doing.  The bluebell shot above was taken with the 250mm at full zoom, as it allows me decent magnification, but from far enough away to prevent me casting a shadow over the subject in bright sunshine.

The weight and volume of gear I’d choose to take on holiday or on a day out has been more than halved, yet the flexibility remains.  The additional pixel density and image quality I have with the 100D means that I can easily crop tighter on a 250mm shot to make up the loss of focal length at 300mm I had on an earlier 8MP camera, so I don’t feel that I’ve actually lost anything.

Getting to grips with my Nikon:

I also supplement my DSLR kit with a supposedly ‘pocket’ camera for the times I don’t want to carry much – although the Nikon P7000 I’m currently using is a tad larger than is truly pocket-able.  But having reviewed lots of models that I might be able to afford second hand (after its predecessor just rolled over and died one weekend), I was swayed by the image quality and features and size seemed less important.  Having been a long term Canon and Fuji user (I still have several Fujis in regular use too), the Nikon ‘thinks’ differently, so it has taken longer to get to know and I’m only just getting to grips with it.  But I’m happy that it has a considerable amount of the image capability that I enjoy from my DSLR in a much smaller package (I miss a proper viewfinder though) – and I paid less than 15% of its original new RRP on eBay and it had only taken about 500 frames.  I also managed to sell the broken one for spares and accessories for about a quarter of that, so I feel I have a bargain.

The version on the left is the out of camera JPEG, exposed to protect highlights and the right hand version has been developed from the RAW file to put detail back into the shadows.
The version on the left is the out of camera JPEG, exposed to protect highlights and the right hand version has been developed from the RAW file to put detail back into the shadows.

I’m finding the Nikon image quality very good from RAW files especially.  It doesn’t seem very competent at retrieving highlights if you over-expose, but makes up for it by being very good in shadow areas.  I’ve got some outstanding results from areas that were totally black in the original JPEG.  This can often come at the expense of additional noise or other artifacts, but I’m not finding that to be the case – but highlights recovered can give rise to some very funky effects.  So I have at least learned one lesson this week – don’t over-expose the Nikon.

The montage left features some detail crops from test images I took to test exactly this.  I deliberately exposed the shots to preserve the highlights in a very high contrast scenes.  In the kitchen shot top, I was concentrating on preserving some detail in the view out of the window, which included some sky and in the garden shot below, I wanted to keep the white fluffy clouds in the sky with nice detail.

Both images consequently ended with areas of deep shadow, completely black in some instances, even with low in-camera contrast, but which I was able to get really good detail back into when developing the RAW file.  With the kitchen image, it is actually a blend of two exposures, one for the outside scene and one for the deep shadow areas – from memory there were over 3 stops of difference between them.  If you really needed a shot like that to work, you’d use fill flash or some other technique to get a better original, but these were deliberately shot badly to find the limits of the camera.  In the garden shot, you can see that the grey lamp post at the top is tonally almost the same between the two shots, I’ve only lifted shadow, not just lightened the image.

To JPEG or to RAW?

So the hardware is sorted, the software is the element I’m still at odds with.  I’m pretty sure that I’ll never come to a truly satisfactory conclusion and will never find a one size fits all solution.  I have my preferred way of working – I like to take pictures with the images manipulated in camera as little as possible, preferring to do my own post processing to taste later.  Consequently, I like to take RAW images and develop these in software, supplemented by the best possible quality of JPEG I can get out of the camera.  To achieve this, I lower all the processing parameters and the images I get off the camera tend to be rather flat and dull.  But this tends to preserve as much detail as possible and gives me a good basis to work with.

A large bumble rested for a while in this intense yellow tulip, allowing me to get some photographs.
A large bumble rested for a while in this intense yellow tulip, allowing me to get some photographs.

There’s a good argument that if I’m taking a RAW image anyway, I don’t need the additional JPEG, as one is always embedded with the RAW file. But having fallen foul of software no longer supporting early RAW files and preferring to use old image retouching software that doesn’t support RAW files, for me, taking both formats covers my options a little better and I feel happier knowing that I have both versions for the future.  I have tried extracting the JPEG from the RAW file, as taken, but this sometimes gives variable results.

It is my practice that if the JPEG is good out of camera, I’ll work with that, but if it needs something more, I’ll be happy to develop the RAW version.  Of all the images I publish here, I think they’re probably about half and half from each format.  Generally speaking, landscapes need to be worked from RAW, macros and close ups are often fine from the JPEG.  There have been a couple of images recently where no matter what I tried, I couldn’t get a better image from the RAW than the camera had managed with the JPEG, so why fix it if it ain’t broke.  The bumble bee in the yellow tulip above is one such example.

RAW development software:

It’s the developing RAW files that is the core of my issue – I have several programs to do this and not one satisfies my needs.  Cameras that can take RAW files do provide you with software, which is, as you’d image, perfectly set up to get the best from their own equipment.  But they can also be limiting in terms of features and are often very specific to one model of camera.  As this development software can be heavy on computer resources, having several open together might not be practical either.

This was an image I considered lost until I tried it in different RAW development software.
This was an image I considered lost until I tried it in different RAW development software.

What frustrates me is that if I were to develop the same image in three pieces of software, in addition to my usual JPEG workflow, I could end up with 4 different versions – each of which has good and bad bits.  One application is very good with sky colour, another has better colour tweaking options, one leaves skies noisy but is good with grass texture, another is good with shadow detail etc. etc. Couple this with the fact that the resulting image sizes will differ slightly and corrected lens issues and perspective manipulation will result in slightly different shapes, I can’t just layer the resulting image files and blend the best from each, more’s the pity.

I do love working with RAW images and the option to get the resulting image better than the camera could manage at the time – it’s very satisfying to get a workable image from a file that initially looked totally lost, as the river scene above, which had a blown sky, flat green foliage (it was the end of August and the subtlety of trees just starting to turn was lost) and deep detail-less shadows.  As I like to take landscapes and scenics, these often need more help than the camera can manage, due to the wide dynamic range you’re likely to encounter, from white fluffy clouds to deep shadow under trees.

So the only way forward is to start with my preferred program and if I don’t get the results I want, try it in another and see if I like that better.  You only need to look at my work bench and see that I regularly use about 20 different pliers – clearly one pair isn’t suitable for everything, so software is just the same – as always, the best practice must be ‘the best tool for the job’.


With some of the lovely weather we’ve had recently, I’ve been out in the garden and a little further afield and these are some of the photographs I’ve taken.  They’re a mix of Canon DSLR photos (file name will show a ‘d’ suffix) and also from my more compact Nikon P7000 (‘n’ suffix).  Some were processed from the JPEGs and some from the RAW file.  As an experiment, I’ve taken some of the closer shots using close up filters in front of the lens (on both cameras)  – I usually use extension tubes between the camera body and lens.

If you’re interested in how shots were taken, I usually leave the EXIF image in gallery images, so you should be able to access it with a browser plug-in.


25 Aug 2015

Getting closer

If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough  Photographer Robert Capa

Please click on any of the photographs for a larger view.  I’ve created these images a little larger so that you can see more detail.

One of the most important criteria when I recently selected my new DSLR camera model was size – in that I wanted a small – and light – one.  I want to be able to carry a decently capable camera and yet walk as lightly as possible.

I've not seen a 'small skipper' butterfly in the garden before and he was very patient with my photography.
I’ve not seen a ‘small skipper’ butterfly in the garden before and he was very patient with my photography.

I realise that, to a large degree, it rather defeats the object to choose a DSLR and then not want to change lenses, but to me, traveling light, coupled with decent image quality and speed and smoothness of reaction are my main criteria at the moment.

So I’ve been considering what equipment to take away with me on holiday next week, to give myself a good working set up, yet not increase the gear I carry.  There are perhaps three main scenarios I like to photograph; landscapes, close ups and zoomed shots of things like wildlife that is distant from me.  On most walks, the first two are the most likely to crop up and I was perhaps prepared to forego the third category in my desire to reduce weight – as a decent zoom lens would weigh as much as the camera – and I will still have my bridge camera with 720mm equivalent zoom lens.

I've always been fond of hoverflies and love to see them in the garden.
I’ve always been fond of hoverflies and love to see them in the garden, here on my sea holly.

I did actually decide to buy the 18-55mm kit lens that has been made available with the camera – not something I’ve done before, but it had several features I rated highly; such as image stabilisation, 10″ minimum focus distance, silent focusing and zooming, along with no external movement when you focus.  It seemed to be well reviewed everywhere I looked and didn’t add a huge amount price-wise to the camera body – and certainly a lot less than buying it independently.  It also has a plastic chassis making it very light and consequently pairs beautifully with the light body.  I’ve only had it a week and like it very much – it focuses very fast and accurately and I’m pretty happy with the image quality.

The zoom range of the kit lens covers most ‘scenic’ shots I’m likely to take, so I wanted to see how it would fair at close ups (a reason for me to value the 10″ minimum focus) and have given some thought to how to get the best of my set up with minimal additional equipment.  So I’ve been tinkering with extension tubes which reduce the minimum focus distance, thereby allowing you to get that bit closer to your subject, thereby making it larger in the resulting image.

This shot isn't especially good, but I do love the movement blur of his fast-moving wings.
This shot isn’t especially good, but I do love the movement blur of his fast-moving wings.

Then I looked at diffusers to allow me to use the camera’s on-board flash and after a bit of trial and error with on-line tutorials have made two different ones that both seem to work surprisingly well – one or other has been used in all of the photos on this page.

So I thought I’d share the results with you.  The weather hasn’t been very good over the last few days, when the sun has come out briefly, it has been accompanied by a stiff breeze, which isn’t conducive to establishing good focus on little things, no matter how fast your lens can focus.  I’m pretty happy with the results considering that I can use things that I already have, weigh a few grams and I didn’t spend any more pennies.  All of these images were taken with the Canon 100D DSLR with 18-55mm IS STM kit lens and one extension tube (either 13mm or 22mm) and the on-board camera flash.


I’ve put the remaining images into a gallery and the images now all open in a simple pop-up ‘lightbox’.  If you want to view them all in sequence, simply start with the first one and scroll through them using the left/right arrows at the edges.


15 Jun 2011

Close up photography experiments

Apologies for the lack of recent updates, my husband and I were both laid low with one of those nasty, once in about 15 years, coughs and colds. Those ones that are so unpleasant that you will remember them clearly for many years to come. It was all I could do to ensure that I looked after customers properly and get from one day to the next. Sleep was hard to achieve, so I’m trying to catch up on that a little now too.

It perhaps serves me right for feeling a little smug that we’d both survived about 3 winters without either of us succumbing to much more than a modest sniffle – we’d managed to avoid all the bugs that do the rounds and were in decent health when those around us were struck down. So it would appear that we were paid back by getting all three winters worth in one dose.

Please click on any of the photographs for a larger view.

It’s lovely in summer months to get out for an evening walk whilst dinner is in the oven and Monday evening gave us such an opportunity after a rather grey day.

I have also been without my most recent camera for some weeks whilst it was repaired under warranty, but having picked it back up at the weekend, it appeared to be fixed – and it’s true that the major problem had been cured with a new lens and sensor unit – but there are still restless ghosts in the machine and I’ve taken the shop manager up on his offer of upgrading to the newer replacement model by paying the difference in their prices. They can’t replace it directly as they can’t get the model any more.

I’ve taken this scene very many times and can’t resist walking past and taking another – I was actually looking for two families of young ducks who live on this stretch of river, but they were obviously all off on adventures.

I would actually have the new model in my sticky mitts right now, as I’d worked out a convoluted way of walking and bus journeys to attend to several errands in one trip today, but I totally forgot to get out and take with me the camera receipt and had to return home and cancel my plans – I’m livid about it and have no one to blame but myself. Having been very good for about 2 weeks, I was going to treat myself to something nice for lunch too – so now I will have to raid the store cupboard instead. Serves me right really, I deserve to be punished.

Having collected the repaired camera on Saturday morning, I was keen to do some work with it to ensure it was now working well before we go away next week, so I fired off quite a lot of assorted shots to check how it was working and a few during a walk on a rare nice evening on Monday.

I was rather surprised at how well my camera and close up filters worked when I saw the detail in the face.

One of the things I was keen to try with it was to do some close ups with some additional close up filters. I didn’t even know if they would work with a digicam of this nature (I usually use them with my DSLR and lenses), so dug them out to have a go. They seem to work pretty well, by shortening the minimum focus distance for any particular focal length (i.e. zoom) – allowing you to focus on something that bit closer than usual and thereby increasing the size of the subject on the sensor.

The tiny pollen encrusted parts of these honeysuckle flowers look like sugared sweeties.

The definition of macro is that the subject is captured at 1:1 scale on the sensor or film plane – or better. So most digicams, despite having ‘macro’ modes aren’t capable of actually capturing true macro photographs, they’d be more appropriately described as close ups. For example, the camera in question has a sensor 6.17mm x 4.55mm in area, so to capture a macro photograph, something 6.17mm wide would totally fill the photograph from left to right.

This particular bee with a taste for my lavender got rather camera shy and would vanish when I started taking photos, so I had to get sneaky to catch him in action.

But the addition of the close up filters (+3 dioptre in this case) – which it transpired were a different size from the front screw mount of my lens – so had to be hand held in front of it – clearly allowed a little extra magnification. My technique whilst working in this manner needs some work (I was just tinkering very quickly to see if it had merit before buying filters the right size) and I think the filters I have are rather poor in quality and I was getting some terrible colour halos around any edges catching the light. But I think it might be interesting to play some more with them and work out the maximum magnification and a suitable working distance to optimise the potential. I think it’s something that I will enjoy working at.

Just as soon as I get my replacement camera that is – and the sun coming back out would help too, please!

Aren’t lavender flowers a complex structure when you look at them closely.