Leigh Folk Festival 2015

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20150627_0292-Edit-EditLast weekend was the Leigh on Sea Folk Festival, a local event of performances held around the town over the entire weekend and the preceding days. It’s on my doorstep so I always take a look, but this year I was there in a semi-official capacity as a volunteer photographer.

It was great fun and very hard work. On the Saturday most of the action is centred around two stages in the library gardens and I spent the day moving between them and the smaller “busker’s square”. I also popped into the church, which was holding the open mic contest. That one was a particular challenge due to the low lighting levels, but it also made a nice break from the sun!

On Sunday the action moves to the old town, with stages in car parks and the wharfs. Unfortunately it rained heavily for a while, and the worst of the rain coincided with the parade. That didn’t seem to affect the crowds though, and it was as busy as I can remember in the years I’ve been visiting.

I really enjoyed doing the photography, and doing it officially made a big difference – it gave me a real incentive to shoot more pictures than I normally would, and the confidence to get to the front. I even jumped up on stage at the end of Saturday to get the crowd shot…

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If you think you don’t like folk music, don’t let the name put you off. The artists are a real mix, from traditional folk through singer songwriters to rock – and even a couple of choirs! Check out the website to get an idea of the range of artists and events, and the a gallery of my pictures here.

I’m already looking forward to doing it all again next year!

 

The best camera

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There’s an old saying that the best camera you own is the one you have with you. You might not get a great picture with a cheap compact, but you won’t get any picture with that expensive DSLR if it’s on a shelf at home.

IMG_20140729_204336Although I enjoy photography I’ve never managed to get into the habit of carrying a camera everywhere I go. When I do it tends to stay in a bag all day anyway. Most of my photography is planned, and I’ll go out with the specific intention of taking pictures. Sometimes, though, I see something worth photographing when I’m just out and about.

These days we all have a camera with us all the time. The humble phone camera has come a very long way since the feature first appeared. My phone’s camera has an 8MP sensor, and they’ve improved since then. It takes a surprisingly good picture in the right conditions. The shot at the top was taken yesterday on my way back to the car after a shopping trip, and the others from local strolls over the year (as always, click to enlarge).

IMG_20140729_204336-2The main limitations are the size of the sensor and lack of a zoom. I’d actually argue that 8MP is more sensible on a camera phone than higher resolutions. Most camera phone pictures end up, like these, as small images on a website anyway and 8MP is still plenty enough for a decent size print. Going to higher resolutions on such a small sensor would only increase noise and ultimately reduce quality.

I was surprised by the quality of my camera. The sectional enlargement shown here is at 100% with no sharpening applied in post-processing. The detail is pretty good, and there’s no evidence of colour fringing even though this is exactly the sort of situation in which you’d expect it.

IMG_20140729_202952Dynamic range is also surprisingly good. These shots have been edited to be more dramatic, but the camera did a great job of retaining shadow detail while avoiding blown out highlights. That only really leaves the lack of an optical zoom as a limitation, although with 8MP at least you have plenty of room to crop for web sized images.

I will never start carrying a camera all the time and keeping the battery charged, but I always have my phone with me. In the sense of that old saying, it truly is the best camera I own.

 

Fireworks

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It’s the time of year for fireworks, and since I haven’t had a go at firework photography since the days of film I thought I’d have a go.

20141108_0016-EditAlthough there are plenty of organised displays on the 5th itself, and the surrounding weekends, I decided to try the Southend seafront display. This takes place every Saturday during October and early November and the location has a distinct advantage. The fireworks appear over the amusement park, giving foreground interest that can be quite hard to achieve in firework photos. It’s all too easy to end up with a splash of colour against a black sky, and that’s not particularly interesting.

The display was a mix of smaller fireworks that burst low in the sky and the larger ones that burst higher and lit up more of the field of view. Knowing whether to zoom in to get a tighter crop or out to take in more the sky was a challenge, and totally hit and miss. Luckily the display was long enough, and I got a few decent ones.

It wasn’t worth combining several exposures or leaving the shutter open to capture more than a couple of bursts on one frame. Almost all of them burst in the same area, so they would have just built up to a solid mess of colour rather than fill a wider view.

The next problem was the weather. It had been spitting with rain, but the forecast was for heavier rain a little later in the evening.

20141108_0162Unfortunately it didn’t work out quite like that…

Even the spitting rain was a problem, as I was shooting straight into the wind. Small drops of rain were accumulating on the lens, and eventually they built up to the point where they were causing reflections.

This shot was one of the last I took and shows the problem at its worst, but it affected almost all of the shots. It just wasn’t possible to keep wiping the lens between shots as there wasn’t time, and in any case the effects weren’t initially obvious through the viewfinder.

IMG_20141108_194910The worst was yet to come.

Towards the end of the display the heavens opened. It was one of those ridiculously heavy downpours we’ve had so often this year. Within seconds I was soaked – and so was the camera.

I got it into the bag as soon as I could, but this shows the state of it when I got back to the car.

It’s supposed to be weather sealed, but I’ve never been brave enough to fully test it before. It’s certainly had a bit of test now…

I’m leaving it out to air for a few days and keeping my fingers crossed that no long term harm has been done… much as I’d like to, I’ve not really got the budget for camera shopping right now…

 

 

 

 

Never a bus when you want one

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This is a shot I’ve been wanting to try for a long time.

The light trails across Westminster Bridge with Big Ben in the background is a bit of a cliche, but I had to give it a go. I’m quite pleased with the way it’s come out, although it’s far from perfect.

I didn’t really have the right gear with me. An SLR with a sturdy tripod would be ideal, although using a tripod there would have been difficult and caused an obstruction. As it was, I had a reasonably high end compact and a table top tripod that I balanced precariously on a wall. The results are reasonably sharp – if the clockface looks a bit blurred, that’s more down to the burnt highlights bleeding into the fine detail than to camera shake.

I had to play with the raw file a fair bit, combining two versions of it to hold as much detail in the highlights are I could, while retaining some of the colour in the sky. It was almost impossible to keep the tripod in one position between shots, so combining separate exposures wasn’t an option.

There would have been more light in the sky, but that’s where the waiting came in. There really wasn’t a bus when I wanted one, and even when there was I had a number of efforts that didn’t quite work – figuring out the right exposure took a few tries as did timing the press of the shutter button. I was using a two second timer delay as a method of keeping the camera steady in the absence of a remote release, so getting the timing right was a challenge.

After about three quarters of an hour of getting increasingly cold, two came along at once and I got the timing right. They say you shouldn’t judge an image by how much effort it took to achieve, only by the final result. My verdict is this one isn’t too bad!

Published!

img011img013The last time I used my camera was back in May, and it was something completely different.

A friend of mine is involved with a local charity for the homeless, and in May their new centre was due to be opened by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Although the local press were going to be there, and my friend is also a photographer, he asked me to go along and help out with some photos in the hopes that between us we’d get some publicity shots to promote the charity in the local press.

It was an interesting morning, and very different to my usual pace of photography. Press photography is hard! You really have to be on autopilot with the technical side of it, take loads of photos and hope that you catch the right moments.

img014The group shot in particular was tricky. Getting that many people to look at the camera at the same time proved to be an impossible challenge! I had time to take three quick shots, and a bit of Photoshop swapping of heads between them got a composite where the majority were looking at the camera, but inevitably there were a few who weren’t.

Most of the rest of the shots were formal groupings of the attendees with the Archbishop, and it was those that ended up in the local press. OK, so it was the free sheets and I didn’t get paid for it (it was for charity, after all!), but it’s still a buzz to see your photos in the paper!

20140517_0082-EditObviously very few of the photos I took were actually used, and naturally the papers concentrated on the ones featuring the people involved with the charity. This last one was captured while the Archbishop was giving an interview to local TV, but I quite like it as an informal portrait.

It was definitely a great experience and opportunity to take some photos I wouldn’t normally get to take.

 

 

Experimenting with star trails

20130814_0001-EditWe’ve had a couple of clear nights recently and with the prospect of seeing the Perseid meteor shower I’ve been spending some time in the garden of an evening. I didn’t have much joy – maybe two or three over the course of a couple of nights.

While I was out there, I decided to set the camera up and have a go at star trails. I was mainly aiming to try out the techniques and see what happened. I figured the level of light pollution where I live would rule out getting anything worthwhile, and I was pretty much right.

20130813_0007I started off with a few 30 second exposures, such as the one on the left here, just to get a feel for what I could capture. At that duration, with the aperture wide open, the stars are quite clear but the street light is starting to become obtrusive. The camera has picked up far more stars than were visible with the naked eye.

I tried the stack approach of taking a series of exposures of around five minutes each with a view to combining them in Photoshop. Five minutes is long enough to capture some movement in the stars, and as long as the gap between exposures isn’t too long it should be possible to get continuous trails. Unfortunately none of those experiments quite came off, but I’ve learnt some useful lessons.

Finally I decided to go for a really long exposure – almost 25 minutes (I was aiming for half an hour, but it was cold and I wanted to go to bed!). As expected the sky was getting really bright from the ambient street lighting and the sensor noise was building up. Still, with a little judicious tweaking of levels it was possible to see the stars rotating around the pole star (neither of these work well at thumbnail size, just click for a larger version).

For an experiment it worked out reasonably well, and I now have a better idea of what to do if I can find the combination of a clear night, no moon and darker skies a little further away from civilisation.

 

A handy coincidence

P1000053P1000066I was in London on Saturday and taking my camera for a walk. That’s what I usually do when attempting street photography – take my camera for a long walk and come back with a handful of photos. Well, a handful would actually be a good haul – more often than not the camera stays in the bag, or at best around my neck.

Street photography, I may have to finally concede, is not my thing. I’d love to be good at it, I’d love to be one of those photographers who has the confidence to even do it, but I just find it hard to get past the self conscious stage. It’s a vicious circle, I know. The more you look self conscious about taking pictures, the more likely you are to be noticed. The confident street photographers snap away as if it was the most natural thing in the world and are probably never noticed. Read More…

Cheating with Nik

20090917_0001The Nik Software collection of plugins has recently come down in price from $499 to $149 after they were bought by Google. At that price I felt it was worth a punt, so I’m currently evaluating the set.

It makes cheating very very easy! The Color Efex package bundles a range of filters that apply creative effects to your photos. Most could also be achieved via Lightroom presets, although the Nik software has a sophisticated control point system to fine tune the results. I’m still getting my head around that, so to start with I just had a play. Read More…

Rather them than me!

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P1000019With a bitterly cold east wind blowing it probably wasn’t the ideal day for the motorbike run to the coast.

I wandered down anyway and took a handful of snaps. It was an opportunity to give a new toy a quick run out although it wasn’t long before my hands were getting too cold to operate it! I’m no biker – unless it’s pedal powered – but I can’t imagine it was a great day to be sat on a bike for any length of time.

It was busy, though, so plenty had braved it, and some weak sunshine took the edge off the cold in sheltered spots. Photography has taken a back seat so far this year because of the weather, and I’m crossing my fingers that a miserable March will give way to a half decent summer for once.

A couple of bikes demonstrated the only way to maintain a semblance of comfort in the cold… I’d still rather be in a car myself though!

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Not an Olympian effort

155The Olympic torch came through yesterday. As it virtually passed my door, I felt the least I could do was wander down and take a look.

Initially I was tempted to take my SLR and try to get some proper pictures, but in the end opted for the little compact zoom. Hardly an effort worthy of a serious photographer, and I probably should have made more of an effort.

The shutter lag and delay between shots meant that the compact was absolutely not the right tool for this particular job and I only got one picture showing the actual torch. By the time the camera was ready to take another shot it was too late.

It was probably the right decision in the end, as the weather decided not to cooperate and I’d have ended up with a very soggy SLR. It was spitting with rain when I went out, and as the torch approached the heavens opened and it lashed down. Almost as soon as the torch had passed it cleared up and the sun came out. At least it gave me an excuse, after the event, for not bothering with the big camera kit!