Slightly abstract title so no one will ever find it! I have been exploring photograph ‘design’ by which I mean composition, exposure, colour, contrast, sharpness/blur and capturing the ‘readers’ attention. I guess I am using ‘reading’ as I want to distinguish passive viewing of an image from participatory exploring of an image which potentially finds meaning. As you can imagine this could be a big post!

Single tree on snow field Northumberland-Prof Ian Purves-20130126-1136-3

To keep this focussed – how can you keep the image open enough so that it isn’t immediately obvious? So far techniques I have come across are:

  • Subject bursting beyond frame
  • Vectors heading outside of the frame
  • Movement trajectory outside of the frame
  • Gateway in/out of the frame
  • Cropping tight
  • Dark areas of contrast with ‘hints’
  • Metaphor
  • Questions not answers

This last one about ‘questions not answers’ comes from David Wards book ‘Landscape Beyond’ – in which he proposes that images that are questions invite us to explore. The other three sections in the book are on simplicity, a sense of mystery and beauty. Anyhow when the snow stopped and it is was likely that I could get the car somewhere (I really need to get a 4×4!) I thought I would step out yesterday. I had a conversation with my son Josh about simplicity in photographs, gave the example of a single tree on a hill and found some examples on Flickr. However I said I wasn’t aware of any local ones – he told me about the three trees near Black Callerton.

So here are a couple of images I took yesterday on a bright sunny cloudless day with fresh snow and a freezing wind. Despite the simplicity of the images there are things to explore and do leave me with questions that I have no answer.

Just had lunch and my favourite photographic critic, my wife, who said about the images “well there alright” and so asked what the blog was on, she responded “blimey your getting a bit up yourself!”. I think I better publish this and tidy the loft.

Single tree on snow field Northumberland-Prof Ian Purves-20130126-1137 Single tree on snow field Northumberland

Personal learning notes

I was using the D800 and Zeiss Distagon T* 2.8/21 ZF.2 trying to get the foreground and tree in focus I upped the f-stop higher than normal as an experiment.

  • Diffraction (in softening of the branches) can be seen in the images over f/8.0 (especially f/16)
  • It was bright so I left the tripod in the car; so I couldn’t use mirror up – I can see a bit of mirror slap in the f/5.6 images (again in the branches) – don’t be lazy!

 

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In my safari photographic technique blog in Dec 2012 I noted a few personal learning needs about autofocus:

  • What “autofocus area mode”? – I am using single-point AF
  • What “autofocus mode”? – I am using AF-A
  • What “AF-C priority selection” – I am using “Focus” on D7000 and “Release + Focus” on D800
  • Which is the best wildlife lens?

What I didn’t comment about was my book publication attempts – I have now created two books, Safari Journal and The Himba Trail using Lightroom 4.3 and Blurb. The good things are that they are great quality and they really engage people ( unlike a slideshow ); the downside is that textually and story-wise I have been personally disappointed in both the software and my ability. In addition the LR upload to Blurb timeouts all the time meaning it can take days to upload a large book in several attempts – if you upload the same book as a print ready PDF it takes 15 minutes. I am also at that stage where I would like a community of practice so I can develop further … I will save you the long story … I talked to Eddie Ephraums (great bloke) and enrolled on a week workshop session with him Joe Cornish and Paul Sanders entitled “Bigger Picture Portfolio & Book Project Workshop

Well Eddie is great at capturing your learning needs and at the end of the conversation he said anything else … I laughed and said well it was bit out of court but I had a wildlife issue with autofocus. Eddie said immediately I had to meet Andy Rouse and why didn’t I go down to the Outdoor Show where he was talking next week. So I have and I’m on the train home!

Not only did I meet Andy Rouse who is a fun larger than life and very personable bloke he is exceedingly knowledgeable … but I was also really lucky to also meet and listened to Florian Schulz (see his “Chasing the Light” and his new book “To the Artic” from Amazon).

So the answers to my learning needs are [Updated on 01/08/2013 see blog] …

  • What “autofocus area mode”? – I am using single-point AF [CORRECT - except birds in flight with no confusing background let the camera use its abilities)
  • What “autofocus mode”? – I am using AF-A [INCORRECT – always use AF-C – Florian uses nothing else]
  • What “AF-C priority selection” – I am using “Focus” on D7000 and “Release + Focus” on D800 [CORRECT]
  • Which is the best wildlife lens? – There is no strict answer to this it depends; however both Andy and Florian use 200-400mm f/4 lens for 80-90% of images as they are sharp, fast, lighter than the primes and you can reframe.

Another thing I learned was that Andy and Steve both pushed was have a project that you can keep coming back to – there is no better way to really see the potential images and learn.

Final note I have to thank Steve Watkins, Editor Outdoor Photography for organising such a great lineup (the other guys where great but not the focus of this blog – Pete Webb and Tim Allen). Steve was also a great listener and was really helpful.

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Well I saw a few images of the sea stack and rock arch just off Lizard Point on which Souter Lighthouse stands at Whitburn (note: several images mistakenly call the point Souter Point – which is further south and seems to have its own arches). So I started to look for any information on access but couldn’t find anything on the internet! As the tide was going out with a low tide at 1028 and sunrise was 0822 I thought well it can’t be that hard … oh dear. Looking at satellite images on google maps there seemed to be a path down to the beach (Byer’s Hole) which is to the south of the beach on which Lizard Point is at the North end  (this beach is not named on OS maps) – still with me. So off I went and got there at 0715 (ended going through South Shields due signs at the Tyne Tunnel – needed the A1300).

Fishermen at Byer’s Hole near Soutter Lighthouse Well the lighthouse car park on the map had a gate which was closed – so I parked across the road (see map below). Entering the gate on foot there was a tarmac path just behind the gate which I followed (it was pitch black but I had a head torch). At the end I went to the cliff edge and turned right and there was the path! By now it about 0730 so 3 hours from low tide (last new moon was 2 days ago so its a spring tide). On the beach (Byer’s Hole)  I went north towards the point and met a fisherman he said he’d never gone round the point as you could get caught by the tide and didn’t know any other way into the next bay. So I had a look at the point and the tide was too high. As a consequence I spent the next 20 minutes exploring the cliff top in the dark – there is no way down. I headed back to Byer’s Hole and met Craig McNair we got down to looking at the sunrise and taking a few shots from the cliff top.


Sunrise from point South of Byer's Hole near Souter Lighthouse W       Souter Lighthouse and Arch at Lizard Point from point South of

Sunrise from point South of Byer's Hole near Souter Lighthouse W

When we had finished it was about 0900 so I set off to see if I could get round the point. The fisherman was still there, eating some sandwiches! Yes it was just possible to get round climbing the low rocks (the higher rocks look OK but they are not on the other side) so I had 1.5 hours to low tide – therefore at least 3 hours. For those wanting to do this you need to understand the tide tables – the tidal height was 1.4m from datum (I think 1.5-1.6m is minimum to get round if you balance a bit on the rocks rather than wade) and low tide was going to be 0.8m from datum and it was two days after a new moon. Please understand the tides or you will be trapped I could see no way out further up the beach. The climb round the point wasn’t hard but there was about 30cm of water to wade at one point (you need wellies). The walk North up the beach was easy the rock not at all slippy and the arch at these tidal heights was easy accessed. I was back at Byer’s Hole by 1030 and could walk easier round the point.

I had set off with the hope of a sunrise through the arch – I don’t believe this is possible at any time of the year but have seen one which is perhaps 30 minutes after sunrise and in July – I think it must be one arches of the two further south [note 14-01-2013: checked it is the further south one ... so it is not possible]? But none the less pleased with the 100 shots I took and the few I selected, it was fun to explore – a great morning ;-)

Stacks and Arch at Lizard Point below Souter Lighthouse, Whitbur
Inside the Arch at Lizard Point below Souter Lighthouse, Whitbur

  • Update 08 Feb 2013: went back to Lizard Point poor day but route update in this blog
  • Update 09 Feb 2013: went back to Lizard Point again see blog

Click icons to see car park and site
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Why did I go the forecast said it was –1C and rain! Anyhow I did go and there was a glow on the horizon from around 0730 – a couple of vaguely decent shot were to be found before it started sleeting and I couldn’t keep the lens free of water.

St Mary’s Lighthouse was built on St Mary’s Island in 1898 on the site of an old monastery which used to have a light to guide ships – a history of the island can be found on the friends site.. The current lighthouse is 38m (120ft) high and has a tidal causeway joining the island to the mainland. It was decommissioned in 1984 but acts as a museum.

I thought I might be able to get a sunrise from behind the lighthouse where there are some large pools which should be clear at mid tide. The tide today was 0944 so was going out whilst I was there. It isn’t possible to get pre-sunrise shots on the island and include the lighthouse so I focussed on the rangefinder which is behind the lighthouse. Looking at Flickr it would seem the car park further North near the mast (Old Hartley) it the best spot to be – though I might try again someday with the pools behind.

Personal Learning Notes:

  • I need to get a waterproof cover for camera and lens! [Note 14 Jan 2013:  Got a Storm Jacket SLR PRO Medium from Wex]
  • Check out Old Hartley [Note 2 Feb 2013: I did see post!]

Click icons to see car park and site
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So yesterday Simon Owens recommended Chemical Beach in Seaham and I was intrigued by the sea stack, the posts, the wheels (but these would be under water due to tide) and the arch. Plus looking at few other photos was encouraging. The weather forecast was good and so it was a go – the plan was see what there was but also try to get the sun through the arch. Great metaphor for drawing you into a new day – loved it since the “The Bridge” in Namibia!

Sunrise at The Bridge at Spitzkoppe in Namibia

Sunrise at The Bridge at Spitzkoppe in Namibia

Simon gave great directions (see map below) and I parked in the dark in the first parking bay, hopped over the barrier and headed left. Really glad of the new wellies it was steep and muddy – the path curves back on itself as it goes down and you have to hop over the large granite boulders – not easy in the dark! On reaching the beach it’s a shale one and there was a feint gold glow on the horizon.

The beach got its name from Seaham Chemical Works which occupied a nearby site in the 1860s. By the 1890s, both it, and Seaham Iron Works, former occupier of the Dawdon Colliery site at Nose’s Point, were ‘disused’. The wooden piles on the beach were supports for a rail track used by wagons for tipping mine waste from Dawdon Pit into the sea. In the middle of the beach is a magnesian limestone stack (Liddle Stack) and the far end is Nose Point where the arch is through to Blast Beach.

Sunrise At The Cave

Sunrise At The Cave by Dave Brightwell

It was 0730 by the time I got to Nose Point at the far end and it was clear the tide was too high (high tide 0944 neaps) to get round the first part of the nose you clearly need low water (and probably not a neaps one) Dave Brightwell has a great photo of the arch on Flickr (see right) – even this is too high a tide to see through but I am sure it can done. So I got down to looking at the stack and the posts.

Thanks Simon, some of the photo’s below (click for lightbox) and perhaps some others in my North East Gallery.

Personal Learning Notes:

  • Visit Chemical Beach at low tide to check out the arches
  • The D800 auto colour balance gave different results today compared with yesterday and so did Lightroom? Back to explore colour balance with ND filters!

Click icons to see car park and site
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Well having spent what remained of December editing Namibia photos and then cooking for the rest I thought it was about time I got out! Inspired by a couple of photo’s in one of my Christmas Presents Joe Cornish’s book First Light, having checked a) the weather (good … possibly a little fog), b) sunrise (0832) c) angles in the The Photographers Ephemeris and d) tide tables (high tide – neaps @ 0751) it all looked perfect! I got up at 0545 for a 50 minute drive (top down) and set off for Embleton – pitch black when I got there so thankful for the head torch I set off on memory of the path … took a detour along the beach ;-)

I had in my mind silhouetted menacing castle high above me with matching menacing cloud pointing towards the doom in the castle! I wanted to pull in some of the round (cannonball) basalt boulders (random link to Namibia) to add to the metaphor and was hoping for a golden glint on the rocks that Joe had found. Sunrise at Dunstanburgh Castle, NorthumberlandAs an aside my wife loves these blurred sea scenes so I set out to add them as much as possible – as it stands she is my only critic! … and the kids will tell you … criticism is one of her specialities (she’ll never read this) …

To being with it was very dark stuck with 30 sec and f/8.0 and shifted ISO up. Unfortunately I had forgotten my glasses so I couldn’t trust my assessment of the liveview on close focus so broke a rule and shifted to f/11.0 and guessed focus (using my Zeiss 21mm). The feelings I had hoped for where present … did I capture them? As the light arrived I stuck a ND8 filter on to keep the shutter slow. Simon Owens arrived he’d been South first and decided the North was a better option, its great to meet people on dark beaches ;-) He gave me a great idea for tomorrow … you can wait!

- 20130105 - 075459 - Prof Ian PurvesSo having processed the images I think I got there … except the golden light (it was red). Biggest problem in post processing was the white balance. Especially the ND8 effect it was a real challenge deciding how to pitch it … go with the Lightroom dropper (Temp: 20,000 and Tint +50) or stay darker and more blue/green … I did the later. Interestingly so did Simon.

Also the filters created a slight vignette … I have known for awhile I needed to change my Cokin set … what to do Lee or Hitech Pro?

There are more photo’s in the Northumberland gallery and one image I took a different white balance approach is below.

- 20130105 - 083131 - Prof Ian Purves

Personal Learning Notes:

  • Explore colour balance when using ND filters
  • Decide which filter route to go down Lee or Hitech Pro

Click icons to see car park and site

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So for the first blog of 2013 lets go back to October 2012 – we were off to Namibia it was booked. I anticipated lots of great landscape photographs (boy did we find them) and whilst I had two D7000’s following the Botswana trip I was not really happy with my 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR AF-S DX NIKKOR plus I felt it was time to make a leap to full frame. The Nikon D800 was getting great reviews and holding the camera it felt great plus it didn’t have the D7000 left hand mode dial which I find is always changing when knocked (silly issue I know).

What to get with a D800?

Well I took a few test shots and then did some timings on the laptop for both load and Lightroom processing … and I bought a new Macbook Pro 15” Retina Display 2.6GHz with SSD and 16Gb RAM … on this machine one image takes 23 seconds into Lightroom through Ingestamatic onto the SSD and backed up to USB 3.0 external drive (this is the fastest procedure by x3!) … on the old machine (well specified Samsung 9 series) forget it. Also you don’t have wait a whole year to zoom in on an image in Lightroom to check on sharpness. Since I got back LR4.3 came out with Retina support.

The next was which wide angle lens so the choice seemed to be the AF-S NIKKOR 16-35mm f/4G ED VR (see Ken Rockwell) I was put off the 14-24mm f/2.8G ED AF-S NIKKOR due to it’s lack of ability to put on filters (at least not without an expensive approach) and the weight. However at the time there was no stock in the UK and so I kept reading. I came across Lloyd Chambers site and walked into the Zeiss world. His reviews sold me on the Zeiss Distagon T* 2.8/21 ZF.2 - a description from the Zeiss site …

The Distagon T* 2,8/21 is a super wide-angle lens and is the leader in its range. Thanks to its aperture of 2.8 and its non-reflecting and virtually distortion-free characteristics, it will help you create spectacular compositions full of variety, dramatic contrast and deep, vivid colours.

… it’s all true. Also I found Robert White their usual helpful self and got both the Zeiss and D800 from them in a few days.

Focal plane a touch back from infinity @ f/5.6 1.0sec

Focal plane a touch back from infinity @ f/5.6 1.0sec

Within a couple of days I was up early and off to Lindisfarne and Bamburgh Castle then onto Hexham fireworks and then up early again for sunrise at Bamburgh Castle (see more images in the Northumberland Gallery).

Focal plane a touch back from infinity @ f/8.0

Focal plane a touch back from infinity @ f/8.0

I was amazed. I also could not see any diffraction issues that Lloyd Chambers talks about (in more depth here), however I mostly used f/5.6 and occasionally used f/8.0 and f/11.0 – jumping ahead of myself – with more experience I have in general rarely stopped down more than f/8.0 and use f/5.6 especially if focus is 5m or more. Actually whilst discussing this I mostly focus on infinity and nudge it back so the edge of the ∞ is inside the Infrared mark at f/5.6 everything from just under 3m to infinity is in focus (plus at f/2.8 infinity is in focus – so always a safe spot). If I am looking for foreground focus I get my composition right and use liveview to focus then decide if I want infinity in focus – at 2m at f/11 it is – so it’s only under 2m there is any issue and to be honest it’s nice to have the background out of focus.

Focal plane 40cm @ f/2.8

Focal plane 40cm @ f/2.8

The manual focus felt a real backward step – it is not – it such a great feeling to be back in charge of focus and to think again. In addition I had forgotten what it felt like as these auto-focus lens have such small “throws” the Zeiss is so perfectly balanced you can easily focus down to 22cm (which is only about 3cm in front of the lens hood).

So back to the timeline, I took over 1,200 landscape images with the Zeiss 21 and D800 in Namibia the percentage wastage was staggering small at 5% compared to 50% on wildlife using AF.

What are the highlights of the Zeiss Distagon 21mm and D800 combination?

  • It is a very easy combination to use in the field you can “feel” where you are with focus even if your eyesight is declining (though I need liveview for foreground focus)
  • The micro-contrast and colours are amazing
  • The lens is so sharp
  • The moustache distortion is visible, but rarely meaningful in a distracting way, and it can be removed easily in Lightroom but I don’t remove it! I used to with the Nikon 16-85 but the image doesn’t feel as good to me – I think the micro-contrast is disturbed by the algorithm?
Uncorrected distortion (Image A)

Uncorrected distortion (Image A)

Corrected distortion (Image B)

Corrected distortion (Image B)

I would be surprised if you can see much distortion (until you flick between them on the lightbox) it was the worse image I could find and needs a human artefact - however you can how see the effect of Lightroom’s correction if you look closely at the foreground plus the nice vignette goes
  • I really like the natural vignette at f/2.8 plus also the colour seems somehow a little richer
  • I have mostly stopped using graduated ND filters – what? – yup 14 stops of contrast in the D800 (i.e. local contrast/tonal differentiation) means that you can pull and push with minimal noise. Of course it’s nice to Expose to the Right (ETTR) to ensure you can pull without noise – of interest the “blinkie’s” on the D800 do exaggerate a little and can be pushed – but don’t rely on it and blame me ;-)
RAW Unadjusted (Image C)

RAW Unadjusted (Image C)

Adjusted (Image D)

Adjusted (Image D)

Adjustment to RAW: Graduated filter (with Highlight -60) then global Curves; Highlight -60; Shadows +60; Sharpening +60; Contrast +8; Clarity +12 – very slight noise can seen in the sky which can corrected with Luminance smoothing +24

 

What are the lowlights of the Zeiss Distagon 21mm and D800 combination?

  • 21mm is a big field of view and in Namibia I felt I occasionally needed something between my AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4G and the 21mm (Oooo that’ll be the Distagon T* 2/35 … the f/1.4 is massive) but overall with 36Megapixels you can also crop!
  • The price was double the AF-S NIKKOR 16-35mm f/4G ED VR

You might wish to see my other blogs on Namibia, my blog on Safari photography and my galleries African wildlife plus importantly Namibian Landscapes.

Current Zeiss 21mm photos on my flickr

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