On an early November morning I ventured out to the top of the Devil's Dyke valley, near Brighton to capture the dense fog that was rolling across the South Downs.
This was a great vantage point some 200m high up with views across the surrounding countryside.
A nearby wooded near provided a the perfect background for errie black & white imagery showing the fog lingering in the atmosphere.
The tripod was set up, the camera connected with a remote shutter release and the camera set to 'bulb' for a long exposure. The medium aperature of f/8 or f/11 was sufficent to ensure there was decent depth of field. Once home, I spent some time in Adobe Lightroom processing the RAW files, adjusting the tone levels and tweaking contrast and brightness.
I have many fond memories of hiking across Stanmer Down in my student days. Located just north of The University of Sussex campus, Falmer, it offers stunning views of the surrounding downland. In May oil seed rape is in full bloom in the neighbouring farming fields and the common pheasant can be spotted foraging the downland vegetation. The dramatic cloud formations were the main attraction to the photography on this particular evening, which was at the end of a sunny and fairly hazy day in late spring. As the sun set I took no time in setting up my camera on the tripod to compose this view. I fitted a 2-stop 0.6ND soft graduated filter to reduce the brightness of the sky compared with the foreground. I also selected a small aperture for good depth of field. Knowing that the low light would require a long exposure time, a cable release was used to reduce any mirror induced shake.
The idea for this came when I was experimenting with natural lighting and the use of some simple props around the house. Muted daylight provided gentle shadows in the silk that contrasted beautifully against the soft white feather. The camera was mounted on a sturdy tripod above a table that the silk was draped over to ensure maximum sharpness, along with a small aperture of f/16 for good depth of field. The image was captured using Ilford Delta 400 film a favourite of mine at the time, although in some ways I wish I had a used a film like Ilford Pan F Plus 50 for even finer detail. Nevertheless I'm quite pleased with the outcome; its simplicity in design and wide range of tones.
The final print was toned in a weak solution of selenium to deepen the blacks.
Captured around the same time as my 'Sunset on Brighton Beach' image, this view itself as I strolled along the boardwalk of Brighton beach one evening. The beach was fairly empty and I couldn't help but notice the lone person sitting watching the sunset go down. This person provided a great focal point to lead the viewer into the frame and I composed the image with the boats providing foreground interest, which were all conveniently pointing the same way.
This is one of my favourite images because the classic portrait composition and use of the rule of thirds, works so well. It has had a recent overhaul in Adobe Lightroom to improve on the tones and the shadow detail that was somewhat lacking in the original Fuji Velvia image.
I've just updated my portfolio page with full overview of my successful LRPS panel from 2003. (click on the logo to the left to see). I had meant to update it before now with a proper hanging plan of the images but hopefully the one provided will do for now (forgive that fact that it was taken on my kitchen floor and there is shadow casting over the left side). A few of the images I still need to get digitally scanned and archived from their original 6x7cm transparency or B&W negative. I've kept the original prints still in their mounts from when I was preparing the panel for submission back in early 2003. I never did keep the original hanging plan unfortunately.
Now that they are displayed properly in their rows, it’s a nice reminder of the time spent preparing this panel; the reasons why I chose those particular images and why I laid the images out the way I did. Being a bit of a perfectionist, I spent ages to ensure it was right as I wanted to present not only images that were visually impactive, but a panel that was arranged cohesively. You’ll notice the general symmetry with the compositions and the use of B&W for the top row and colour for the bottom row. I also wanted to show a variety of photographic techniques both in camera and post-processing. All the black & white images were developed, toned and printed in my home darkroom. It was with great excitement that in August 2003 I received notification that I had been successful.
As for the next stage (Associateship), well I’m thinking long and hard the direction I want to take. Not only must the panel of now 15 images have a statement of intent, but the standard must be that much higher! I’m considering my options carefully for a future ARPS panel submission and I’m hoping I will be able to prepare some sort of panel in order to take advantage of a RPS advisory day one day soon.
A leisurely walk around Swanbourne Lake in Arundel, West Sussex brought me to this lonely boat shed on the edge of the lake. Its desolate appearance brought with it a great opportunity to utilise black and white film to convey this mood effectively.
I used Kodak Professional High-Speed Infrared film with a red filter to increase contrast and give it an eerie feel. The film was processed in Kodak D-76 developer and during printing I applied some selective burning and dodging areas to preserve detail. The final print was blue toned which I think compliments the overall mood.
One of my favourite images from 2002, this image of Brighton Beach in East Sussex, encapsulates my vision of what coastal landscape photography should showcase. I visited the Brighton shore line in the late evening light to see the beautiful warm glow cast across the pebbles and the flint groyne. I didn’t have much time to set up my tripod however on seeing the boat passing across my view. I wanted to make sure that the boat remained in view to provide the background interest that was needed for this composition to work.
This image was taken on my Canon EOS 1N-HS camera fitted with a Canon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 USM lens at the widest setting. I used an aperture of f/16 to provide a good depth of field. I also fitted a Cokin 0.6 ND graduated filter to tone down the sky in order to provide detail in the sky and a good tonal balance.
I visited Nore Hill recently to photograph the bluebell flowers before they faded. Getting up at 04:30am in the morning I intended to capture the early sunrise across the landscape but instead it was fairly cloudy. The cloud did however provided a perfect blanket of even lighting for woodland photography.
Nore Hill, part of the Slindon Estate is located just east of Chichester in the South Downs National Park, West Sussex. As I discovered it was a perfect spot for bluebells which flower here in the spring during April and May. To ensure sharp images due to the low light and use of long shutter speeds, my camera was mounted on a tripod. A remote cable release also came in handy along with the use of mirror lock up.
I had plenty of time to consider my composition, set up my tripod and camera before the sun rose. It wasn’t until around 8am that the sun began break through the clouds to give a scattering of contrast through the trees. This also provided a small window of opportunity to capture the landscape from the eastern side of Nore Wood, with sunlight breaking through the clouds and across the tree line below.
The trip wasn’t without its problems though. I nearly got lost and had to consult my map. I was trying to follow the plethora of footpaths through the woods, only to realise that I had left my coat on the other side of the woods! I blame my alarm clock for waking me up so early! I was actually trying to make my way to the ‘folly’ ruin which is the main landmark which provides stunning views across the estate and towards the south coast.
A managed to get a few pleasing landscapes, but the real prize was the amazing ground cover of bluebells in the Nore wood itself.
How to get there.
From the A27 turn off just after Fontwell roundabout onto Dukes Road at Slindon Wood. Make your way along the Slindon Bottom Road until you read the next junction. Just on the left is a small parking spot at the south end of the footpath leading up to Nore Hill. This footpath leads into Puck Lane Coppice and eventually Nore Wood itself. From the footpath the folly can be seen through the clearing.
Ordinance Survey Map OL197
What better way to combine an interest of astronomy with photography without the need to acquire very expensive astronomical telescopes! As much as everyone would love a top of range large aperture telescope to view and capture the most distant galaxies and nebula, a simple wide angle lens will still enable a stunning image of the night sky. A wide angle lens with a wide maximum aperture is ideal for night time landscape photography. I decided to have a go at photographing the night sky this month with some promising results.
I have to confess, I don’t really know the night sky too well, I only know some of the more famous constellations and where you can find certain planets but that’s about it. However I’ve always had a fascination with astronomy and I am always on the lookout for significant events in the astronomical calendar. This month saw the annual Geminids meteor shower one of the most frequent meteor shows of the year with up to 100 meteor showers visible per hour at its peak. I decided to view the Geminids from my back yard on a cold cloud free night which seemed ideal for night time photography as well.
There are plenty of resources on the internet for photographing the night sky, in particular star trails. Software like Startrails.exe (Startrails.de) merge a series of images into one stunning star trail. With film you would need to leave the camera shutter open for hours and pray you ended up with a usable image free from any uncontrolled light leakage or image blur.
The images below show what can be achieved with a relatively straight forward set up. A tripod is a must along with a shutter release cable or similar remote trigger. Which comes onto two important considerations when photographing the night sky; 1) How long to expose your image and 2) digital noise.
I used the “500 rule” as a guide to decide on the maximum length of your exposure to ensure stars were free of blur. Realistically there is always going to be some star blur especially noticeable if you zoom in at 100% crop.
Maximum exposure time = “500 rule” / focal length of lens
Using a shorter exposure and a low ISO setting ensured my images were relatively noise free. This isn’t always possible of course however and I generally find an ISO setting of up to 800 and even 1600 perfectly acceptable. Modern digital sensors do a remarkable job of minimising any noise in low light.
Using digital manipulation software such as Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom allowed me to make a few tweaks to greatly enhance the final image. First of all I had to tackle image noise. I reduced the noise by adjusting the noise luminance scale in Lightroom, increasing it to about + 40. Next I adjusted the colour balance to a cooler 3800 kelvins. Some suggest going even colder to around 3000k, although I personally think this is too blue. I then increased the image contrast and adjusted the other basic sliders such as shadow and highlights until the image appeared more striking. The clarity slider was then adjusted to about +80 to make the stars really shine and the sharpening tool was also used a moderate amount. These basic adjustments really help an image of the night sky stand out by enhancing the stars against the dark sky. It is completely subjective so it is worth experimenting with the levels to see what works best for you. There are plenty of excellent resources on the internet dedicated to post processing night sky photographs.
My top tips:
You don’t need specialist lenses or complicated set-ups to photograph close ups. Macro photography doesn’t have to be expensive either. Here’s where I explain some of the other options available which won’t break the bank!
Using Extension Tubes
An extension tube is a hollow metal tube that attaches between the camera body and the lens. By adding an extension tube you increase the distance between the film plane (or sensor image plane if using a digital camera) and the lens. This allows a closer focusing distance and increased magnification compared to without any extension. This can be really useful for close up photography and is far less expensive than a dedicated macro lens.
An extension tube fits onto your camera in the same way as your lens, which is typically by bayonet fit. On the front of the extension tube there is a female bayonet mount to receive the lens in the same way as the camera mount. The simplicity of this means that you can stack multiple extension tubes onto each other to increase the magnification even more! A benefit of extension tubes is (since they are hollow), is there is no loss of image quality. There is no lens elements in the way, degrading the original optics.
Great! But what’s the catch?
Well there had to be one, this isn’t a specialist macro lens after all. Despite these benefits, there are some factors to consider when using an extension tube. Unless you go for the camera’s fully dedicated extension tube you lose out on most automation. What I mean by automation is auto-exposure and lens coupling as extension tubes typically do not feature a lens CPU (processor) for all the electronic functions to be retained. So forget auto-focus! Unless of course your extension tube is fully compatible with the camera and lens that you wish to use it for. Without any automatic diaphragm coupling you will be forced to use the lens’s widest aperture, unless it has a manual aperture ring on it – which many modern digital SLR lens do not have. So you need to be aware and accepting of their limitations.
The other issue of the increased magnification is the darker image through the viewfinder, making focusing more difficult. This presents an additional challenge when attempting to photograph moving subjects such as insects. This is less of an issue when photographing still life, flowers on a tripod or in studio light conditions for example.
So which one to choose?
Well it all depends on what you wish to use it for. To start with a tube with a modest amount of extension should do just fine and provide a useful amount of magnification increase for most situations. The amount of extension is measured by distance, typically in millimetres and there is a direct correlation in magnification between the focal length of the lens you use to use it with and the tube’s distance in extension.
Increase in magnification = Extension (mm) / Focal length (mm)
So adding a tube with 25mm extension will increase the magnification of a 50mm lens again by half. So if that 50mm lens focused to a half-life size (0.5x) to start with, it will now focus to 0.5x + 0.5x = 1.0x. That’s full life-size! Most 50mm lens don’t offer full-life size to start with, unless it is a dedicated macro lens. So it’s a simple and cheap entry into macro photography.
Consider another example. Two Canon 25mm II extension tubes stacked together would increase a Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro (1:1) lens by 25mm+25mm / 60mm = 0.83x, providing you now with a useful 1.83x magnification.
Extension tubes provide a simple way to increase the magnification of a lens. They can be very useful in most situations without too much compromise, especially when using a tripod or when you can control the lighting conditions.
Another option is to use a close-up lens.
The Close-up Lens
This is again a simple way to increase your lens’s magnification. It screws onto the front filter thread in the same way as any screw-in filter. They are relatively inexpensive depending on the make. There are also no lens coupling compatibility issues or darkening of the image when trying to focus, as there are with extension tubes.
The major problem I have with them though is the image quality. The optical quality of the lens is typically inferior compared with any original camera lens and adding yet another layer of glass in front will only degrade the sharpness and image contrast. This is especially so when you stack the lenses on top of each other when trying to increase magnification. Stacking lenses also makes your pictures more prone to ghosting and lens flare. Although in fairness, many modern close-up lens do offer excellent optical quality for the price especially if you go for a multi-coated, double lens version or achromatic model to reduce any chromatic aberrations. The best quality close up lens, those that are made to the highest standards with multi-coated glass are also quite expensive.
Unlike extension tubes, the magnification or “power” of the lens is measure in dioptres, like spectacles. The higher the +d the more “powerful” the lens and the closer it will focus. To confuse matters, some manufactures don’t publish dioptres factors on the lens but use other figures and models designations. Nikon for example has released the new N1-CL1 close up lens (offers 3.8x magnification if in case you didn’t know), while Canon uses 250D and 500D (4+ and 2+ dioptre respectively). In all cases however, the magnification of the lens or dioptre factor can be measured by 1000/f, where f = focal lens of the lens. A close-up lens will also reduce depth of field. It will also shift the focusing range of the lens closer, meaning it won’t focus to infinity anymore. Not an issue when you consider the point of it is to focus for close-ups anyway!
The next option to consider is reversing your lens.
Lens reversing ring
A lens reversing ring is an inexpensive metal ring that has a camera male-bayonet mount on one side and a filter thread on the other side. They are so cheap that you can buy one on ebay for as little as 0.99p! The downside is that they are simply a metal ring. There is no auto-focus, no diaphragm coupling - no functions whatsoever. They simply allow you to reverse the lens and securely mount it to your camera.
Another consideration is as you are reversing the lens, you are also exposing the rear of the lens to any dust and dirt. This rear element is normally protected by a lens cap or is within the camera mount, so ensure you protect the rear of the lens from the weather and any dust.
The biggest advantage (apart from the cost) of a reversing ring is you can achieve much higher magnifications compared with close-up lens and extension tubes. The smaller the focal length of the reversed lens, the greater the magnification. A reversed 50mm lens for example provides about 1:1 life-size magnification, whilst a reversed 28mm wide angle lens gives about 3x magnification which is great for more extreme macro work. In all cases of course the greater magnification the shallower depth of field so if you want any discernible depth of field ensure you use a mid to small aperture. On the flip side, this lack of depth of field can work in your favour when photographing extreme close ups with a completely out of focus background.
The best option if you specialise in macro photography is to use a dedicated macro lens for your chosen camera. They are designed to focus at closer distances so offer the best optical quality. There is also no compromise when it comes to auto-focus, metering or for ease of use. Some of my best macro images were taken with the highly regarded Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 1:1 macro. The Nikon 200mm f/4 ED-IF Micro-Nikkor is also regarded as one of the best macro lenses for photographing insects and other wildlife. Not everyone can afford the hundreds and even thousands of pounds it costs for these specialist lenses, but luckily there are cheaper alternatives. If you are willing to factor in the above considerations when using extension tubes, close up lenses or reversing rings, then there is no reason why you cannot achieve stunning macro images on a small budget!
If you can accept having to manually focus and manually expose then they offer an excellent way into the world of macro photography! There are no optics to get in the way of image quality and you can achieve far higher magnifications in many cases as well, depending on what lens you reverse.
Unless your lens has its own aperture ring, there is no way to control the aperture, so this is worth bearing in mind. I currently use my cheap Nikkor Ai-S 50mm f1.8 standard lens (which has its own manual aperture ring) with a 58mm reversing ring. You can still use modern camera lenses that lack an aperture ring, it is just that you won’t be able to control the aperture. A get around to this to actuate the diaphragm lever by sticking a blob of blu-tack to keep the lever in place. A DIY fix but it works. Keeping the aperture fully open or mid-way works best, allowing sufficient light into the camera viewfinder in order to compose and focus manually.
UK based Landscape and Nature photograher
Welcome to the blog page for Paul Gilmour Photography and related ramblings!
Here is where you can read articles about how I created my images, and my creative thinking behind them.
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