Friday, May 30, 2008

Smoke Photography

I mentioned earlier that I might try to follow this smoke photography tutorial, and with the absence of anything better to do, and rain outside, I actually did just that.

Usually when I try to do anything with off-camera lighting it's enjoyable, but often incredibly frustrating. Trying to take self-portraits for example, can drive you slightly round the bend - trying to get the lights, exposure and focus right is difficult and a little bit annoying. It's the same with water drops. Focus and timing are a pain.

However, doing this smoke photography has been one of the easiest and most enjoyable and rewarding half-hours in quite some time. Everything actually worked straight away, and I got results that look somewhat like those in the tutorial. Although I didn't have any of the required equipment, I was easily able to find random stuff around the house to fill in. Anyway, here are a couple of my favourite shots. At the end I have posted a couple of pictures of the set-up. I would explain further how I did everything, but the tutorial above does a much better job than I could.

smoke (6 of 6)

smoke (5 of 6)

These two have been altered somewhat: I inverted the colours in the GIMP and messed around with the colour balance a bit. The rest are pretty much out of the camera with some curves adjustments made.

smoke (4 of 6)

smoke (2 of 6)

smoke (1 of 6)

smoke (3 of 6)

Here is the setup. I used a black t-shirt hung over a chair, a cardboard box snoot, a black page of a calendar as a reflector, and yes, that is a tin of sardines holding up the incense. The second photo is a wide-angle shot with the flash firing, to give an idea of what it does. Notice in particular how the snoot stops any light from reaching the black t-shirt in the background.

setup (2 of 2)

setup (1 of 2)

All in all, that was extremely satisfying. I highly recommend giving it a go, you probably won't have to buy any new equipment and you won't have to leave your house!

This week, I 'ave been mostly reading:

Here are some interesting articles out of the 400 I have read in the past week, according to Google Reader:

What does the rise of video mean to you?

A very long video by photographer Joe McNally speaking at Google.

The Business of Rock and Roll Photography

Black and White
presets and Web Galleries for Lightroom.

Two articles about originality by Chase Jarvis.

Joe McNally talking about some of his favourite photographers, with some great links.

Tutorial on smoke photography - I might actually give this a go later on, stay tuned!

Tag Galaxy: A very cool way to browse pictures in Flickr etc.
- you have to take a look at this.

Guy who took a polaroid every day for about 20 years.

'Behind the Lens' with Steve Winter, who explains the logistics of a National Geographic shoot.

I know it might be seem a bit arrogant that little-old-me, by just reposting links of other people's stuff, sometimes second or third hand, could become a valid disseminator of news, but personally I love finding stories from random sources, so hopefully there are others out there who might also enjoy this too. I think that the more cool stories spread, the better.

Enjoy ze weekend!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Sigma 70-300 f4 - 5.6, or Why I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Crappy Zoom

One the few purchases was the Sigma 70-300mm f4 - 5.6 Macro. I was still a naive, wet-behind-the-ears photographer, and I thought that a 'zoom lens', even one worth less than €200, would enable me to take stunning photos of hummingbirds in flight, across continents. At night. In the fog. Sitting on the shoulders of a Parkinson's patient. Sadly, it wasn't to be, and as my 'arsenal' of lenses grew modestly, I realised just what a dud this particular one is. It's soft, unless at f8 or above, and nowhere near the end of the zoom. It's slow, the whole way through, to the point where anything taken at speed in less than midday sun will more than likely be blurry. The below represents just about the best I have managed with this lens from a wildlife point of view (the reason I bought it). It was taken at f8 - the only usable f-stop, in extremely bright sunlight, but even so I had to up my ISO to 400 to just barely freeze the action: the shutter speed was 1/320, the minimum needed to stop a bird in flight. It's also not very close: if I went in any closer than 220mm it would have been unusably soft. The fact that the photo is mildly underwhelming is testament to the poor quality of this lens for this type of photography.

Bird in Flight

So am I just whining, again? No, actually, I have a point, sort of. While this lens is essentially useless for wildlife or fast-moving photography, it does have other uses which I had didn't have in mind when I bought the lens, but have become hugely useful. A slow telephoto is perfect for capturing some slightly different landscape images. When you're sick of the same wide, sweeping shot, a lens like this is perfect for squashing together the perspective of a line of fields or the lines on a beach. It also allows you to isolate details in mountains, for example. For all my complaining about the lens, in fact, it has been on my camera for some of my favourite ever shots. Here are a couple:

This first is one of my all-time favourites. Notice the compressed lines on the beach:


Here's a wider shot taken at the same time. It's just a bit, meh...


Another shot that was boring as a wide-angle. The hedges are all compressed, creating interesting lines again.


Lastly, one of the Swiss Alps. This is that isolating detail business I was talking about...


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Eyes to See You

Well, I thought it was a good title...

Eyes to See You

Monday, May 26, 2008

St. Nicholas' Church/School, Adare.

An interesting, foreboding evening sky. An old church with intriguing architectural details. It should be a photographer's dream come true (well, maybe not quite such hyperbole), but for whatever reason, it didn't quite come together. Architectural photography largely eludes me. With most other types of photography I can pre-visualise to a certain extent. I have a catelogue of ideas, gleamed from other photos I've taken, or photos I've seen and admired, which runs through my mind before pressing the shutter. These serve as a platform from which my limited creativity can launch. However, I can't seem to put this into action for photos of buildings.

Well, enough maudlin musings. St. Nicholas' Church is the one opposite the new entrance to the Golf Club on the way into Adare. It's a cool building, and I actually spent my first year of primary school there. I remember little of it, but the terror of climbing its steep stone steps to the tiny classrooms sticks in my mind.

St. Nicholas' Church/School

St. Nicholas' Church/School

St. Nicholas' Church/School

St. Nicholas' Church/School

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Monday, May 19, 2008

Last of the Sunsets - honest

Well, I think I have milked two evenings in Spanish Point for just about all they were worth now. I had been disappointed that I hadn't taken any landscapes in a long time, as they were the reason I got interested in photography in the first place. Now I think that I need to take a break from them...

lastsunsets (2 of 3)

lastsunsets (3 of 3)

lastsunsets (1 of 3)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Saturday, May 17, 2008


This is Coco, the idiot savant whose talent is 'fetch'. This dog could keep going for days. She also looks like a character from something in this photo, I think it's an imp or something from the Harry Potter films but I'm not sure and Google hasn't cooperated.

Coco (1 of 1)

Friday, May 16, 2008

This week, I 'ave been mostly reading...

60 Photography Links You Can't Live Without

Teaching Yourself Photography

Do You Love Your Subjects?

Why it's All About the Glass

10 Best Methods to Take Great Photographs

9 Lighting Types to Harness and Improve Your Photography

Spanish Point Sunsets

I was in Spanish Point for the past few days, and now I have a backlog of photos to sort and process. It's a great feeling. Here are a few from last night - we were treated to a couple of spectacular sunsets over the past few days. Spanish Point knows how to do sunsets:

Rock at Sunset (2 of 3)

Rock at Sunset (3 of 3)

Rock at Sunset (1 of 3)

Landscapes were my original impetus for taking up photography, but I've never really taken any I was really satisfied with. I always go with a visualisation of the sweeping, haunting vista I'm going to capture, and I always return with disappointment. I suspect it's a combination of things: a lack of an ultra-wide lens, not enough patience, lack of foreground interest. Plain-old being in the wrong place - some locations are just obnoxiously dull. I'm happy enough with these, but I'll keep trying.

I'll probably put some more photos from the break up here in the next few days. Or hours. If I get bored.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Lemon Splashes

So this is what I was trying to do when the little water monsters appeared. In my continuing efforts to do anything but study for exams, I decided that it would be an excellent idea to try out some more high-speed photography using my flashes. The setup was simple: A bowl of water with a sheet of white paper behind it, and then one flash pointing at a 90 degree angle to the camera, and a second one bouncing off the wall for a bit of fill. I then focussed the lens (Sigma 105mm Macro) using trial and error, which is a bit infuriating but I don't think there's any other way. This is definitely 'proof of concept' (a great term for when something turns out a bit shit...) rather than a finished idea. If I wanted to do this properly, I'd need a larger container, and one that wasn't rounded: this caused a lot of distortion and difficulty focusing. Still, it was fun, and it certainly helped me in my quest to under-perform in my exams! Which is all you could ask for, really.

Lemon Splash 1

Lemon Splash 2

Lemon Splash 3

Lemon Splash 4

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Little Water People

These are side-effects from a little experiment I tried, which I'll probably blog about tomorrow.

water (3 of 3)

water (2 of 3)

water (1 of 3)

You had better be swooning in anticipation!



Swoon, I say!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Dandelion Clock

Decided to try something different. The photo was exported from Lightroom without any changes made, then processed in GIMP image editor. First I ran the 'old photo' script, then painted on some scratches and whatnot using Prowlers grunge brushes. I picked different brushes, and clicked around the image, changing the brush and the opacity all the time until I ended up with something I liked. That's about it!


Friday, May 09, 2008

Some links to photography stuff

Because this seems to be What One Does On A Friday.

I read an obsessive amount of blog posts. I have, at last count, 236 RSS subscriptions, and I read about 30 or 40 posts a day. Here is some cool stuff I've found over the past couple of weeks. A lot of it is through secondary sources, but I don't really care:

A review of PicLens. I've tried it out, it's incredibly cool. It is a really nice graphical way of viewing pictures on a web page. You should probably download it. Try it out on a couple of Flickr explore pages once you have.

A story about Pascal Dangin, the 'Master Retoucher'. Be warned: it's very long, but very good.

A story about a miniatures photographer.

A video tutorial to make a contact trigger for a flash, with McGuiver-esque levels of primitive equipment (except for the BB gun) This allows you to do precise, high-speed photography. I really want to make one!

A Camera hack for Canon point and shoot cameras, giving them Raw capabilities amongst other things.

A good way to find nice colour combinations for Lightroom web galleries, or anything else which can have a colour combination.

Lastly, a couple more of my photos of the rapeseed field from last Monday:

rapeseed (2 of 2)

rapeseed (3 of 2)

Have a nice weekend!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Strobist stuff

I just want to share a few things I have picked up from the wonderful Strobist blog. Mainly in the hope that they'll sink in to my head a bit better if I explain them to a third party - even if it is just the ether of the internets.

Strobist is a website dedicated to teaching people how to use off-camera lighting to make better pictures. I won't attempt to explain it fully, the website does it much better than I ever could - which is understandable, considering everything I've learned comes from there... Seriously, if you have any interest in off-camera lighting, go there and start reading. Even if you don't have an interest, you probably will after reading a couple of posts.

Anyway, one cool technique that I have been messing about with is using off-camera flash outdoors in broad daylight to supplement the sun. Why do this? Well, there are several reasons: to get rid of harsh shadows being the main one. I, however, wanted to use off-camera lighting in the bright light to make my photos 'pop' a little more, and also give some more interesting textures and shadow to my main subject. These first two pictures, while not exactly prize-winning material, have a pleasing '3d' type effect as a result of lighting them with an off-camera flash which has a home-made softbox attached, and at the same time underexposing the background to allow the main subject to stand out. Hopefully seeing the pictures will explain things a bit better:

Buddha (2 of 3)

Using off-camera lighting outdoors also allows me to keep detail in the sky and on my subject at the same time. Without it in this next picture, the sky would probably have been pure white, if I wanted the flowers to be properly exposed:


Lastly, meet my new model, Buddha. Unlike my usual models (friends and family), Buddha doesn't complain if I ask him to to be constantly photographed for twenty minutes. In fact, he spent the entire photo-shoot in a state of transcendental happiness, which did wonders for my self-esteem. Using off-camera light here also allowed Buddha to pop out from the background - I know it's a bit of a dull photo, but it's a cool technique.

Buddha (4 of 3)

Anyway, I know I haven't explained the how at all, but hopefully I've made a bit of a case for why. To summarise: Off-camera lighting is cool, go read Strobist.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008


We have entered into a strategic partnership going forward with, in an attempt to create a synergy with our overlapping demographics.

Well, OK, I asked them to put a link to my blog on their blog...

I've been reading The Limerick Blogger for quite a long time now, and it has the dubious honour of being my most-read subscription in Google Reader - according to the statistics I've read 108 posts over the last 30 days, which is 95% of everything that was posted on the site... It's a great mix of news and features, and there are some excellent photographers posting there too. I highly recommend it! The Limerick Blogger can be found here.

Have some pictures - click on the one below for a slideshow of a few more.


Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Backlog of photos, actually being able to go places, weather that isn't rain... Ah, it looks like Summer is finally here! And for the first time, I can drive. Just about...

Driving is funny. I have a feeling that me, and probably most others, are not actually naturally equipped with the skills necessary to operate such an incredibly complicated and dangerous machine. I really don't think that our designers, whoever they were, quite expected us to invent and run such things on a casual, day to day basis. Maybe the occasional superhero, but not everyday people like me. I often knock things, or drop trays. I can barely tie my shoelaces if I get up too early in the morning. I can't play snooker, and while I like car racing in computer games, I spend an irregular amount of time upside-down in a ditch. Hand-eye coordination is something that other people have.

Yet, here I am, hurtling down a road which was probably designed for a horse and cart and an old farmer with a bit of wheat in his mouth strolling alongside it. A road with barely enough room for two cars to pass. And what is giving me this super-human ability? It can only be fear. I spend most of the time with my hands clenched to the steering-wheel, knowing that the slightest movement at the wrong time could end in my propulsion out the windscreen at a speed that the Human Bullet would be envious of. So I don't swerve. And I continue.

So is that it? Are we all driving around in what amounts to (literally) a white-knuckle ride for a couple of hours a day, perhaps just to go to the shop and pick up a litre of milk? Maybe it has receded into the subconscious, but nothing really changes. The slightest mistake can result in catastrophe, whether we've been driving for months or years. Maybe I'll stick to bumper cars and computer games. But I was never really good at them either....

Anyway, after that, I feel I shouldn't talk much about my photos. I drove (myself!) to Kilkenny yesterday. The weather was lovely. I feel I know my camera now. Not the buttons and dials, I've known them for some time. Rather the end result: what will come out dull, what looks great now but will amount to little more than a speck lost in a sea of complication in the final photo. How depth-of-field will enhance or ruin my photos. So that's good, I suppose. Here's to a Summer of Photos.

Click on the picture below for a slideshow of some more, there's only about 10 or so...

Quick note about this picture. When I uploaded it to the computer last night I had a quick play around with the settings in Lightroom. When I took a look at it again today, I thought "geez, what was I thinking? Nobody will believe that was real, it's completely over saturated" So I clicked 'reset'. And nothing changed, it really was this ridiculous.

Yellow Field

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Just Chillin'

Because sometime, spiders need to kick back too.

Spider Relaxing

Thursday, May 01, 2008


Nothing spectacular, but I must say I like the cool blue light.