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Z is for Zoom-burst…

Try as I might I just don’t really like zoom lenses – I generally find them cumbersome and awkward to use. I’ve always said I’d far rather carry two separate low-light lenses with wide open apertures and swap them about as necessary than carry one heavy zoom with relatively limited apertures. I’m not particularly good at hand-holding my camera steady for any length of time, and to date I’ve not been keen to use a tripod, so this may have a lot to do with my preference for faster lenses that let in lots of lovely light.

However, now that I do have a tripod, I’ve discovered that there is one kind of image my zoom lens can take that none of my prime lenses can manage – it requires a long shutter speed that changes focal length during the exposure, known as a zoom burst image. I’m not sure how practical that may be for everyday use, but it’s a challenge I haven’t yet tried and I figured I might as well give it a go… So combining many of the new skills I’ve learned during the course of this month (including developing photographic patience!), here is my artistically creative, very weird-looking zoom-burst version of a congratulatory bunch of flowers for all of this year’s Blogging A-Z Challenge participants, with a huge ‘well done’ to all of us!

carnation-zoomI took this crazy-looking shot of a vase of orange carnations from above, using a tripod to hold my camera steady while my zoom lens was (inexpertly) turned manually from telephoto to wide-angle during the exposure. It took a lot of trial and error (and I do mean a lot) to get anything anywhere half decent enough to use for this post. I tried so many different permutations of everything before getting to this point, as there are so many different elements to play about with – to zoom outwards or zoom inwards, ND filter or no ND filter, which shutter speed and aperture combination, where best to fix the manual focus (starting point or end point), how quick or slow to manually turn the zoom, what makes the best background?

I found placing the vase directly onto the neutral-coloured kitchen flooring was just too bright, with too much reflected light over-exposing the resulting images, and using an ND filter to reduce the amount of light entering the camera just didn’t work at all well here. So I tried putting the vase on a matte reddish-pink scarf, but although the exposure was much better with the darker colour, it proved to be just too similar to the colour of the flowers. I finally ended up sitting the vase on a washed-out, faded tie-dyed cotton wrap, and the muted blend of colours added nicely to the overall groovy psychedelic effect without detracting from the flowers.

I found it produced a far better effect to focus manually at the expected zoomed-out end-point, and then without touching the focus ring carefully zoom in again before taking the shot while progressively zooming out. I set the camera (fully on manual) at ISO100, f/22 for 2 seconds, opened the shutter and started zooming out continuously as smoothly as possible until the shutter closed again. The final result may be technically far from perfect, as ideally I wouldn’t want to be touching the camera while taking a slow exposure, but it’s impossible to zoom without taking a hands-on approach along the barrel of the lens so I guess a little camera shake was inevitable. And actually I quite like the soft blurriness of the central flower-bud, it all adds to the overall wacky effect…

So here we are at last, at the final letter of this Blogging from A-Z Challenge – phew! And now that’s over I’m sure we could all do with some well-earned Zzzzzz… 🙂

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Y is for Yearning…

I still have a yearning to be the kind of creative photographer who can take my camera anywhere, see potential images in the unlikeliest of places and capture beautifully artistic shots, time after time. So although I’m teaching myself about the technical aspects of cameras, for me photography will always be more of an art than a science. I like to think that I’m learning to make the most of the science in order to create an artistic image as best as I possibly can. I’ve improved my technical knowledge and skills such a lot this month through completing this A-Z challenge; making such a concentrated effort to fulfil each topic has given me the push I needed to start taking my photography on to the next level, which feels great…

Today’s image is me out and about with my camera, casually dressed and hair all dishevelled as ever but finally feeling more comfortable being seen to be a budding photographer – so thank you all for your kind words of encouragement along the way, and for inspiring me to try new things in my quest towards expanding my (ever-wonky) photographic horizons… me-and-my-nikon

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X is for X-Factor…

What gives an image that X-factor, what makes one image stand out amongst so many others? For me, there is usually a play of light involved somewhere along the line, something special that truly highlights the magic in the mundane and shows everyday life in a different light… I’ve never quite got there with any of my images so far, but I live in hope! In the meantime I love the way the sunshine after the rain brought this usually dull entrance to our local shopping centre to life, a momentary moody illumination that was gone almost as soon as it arrived…

shopping-centreHmmm… this image would probably also work for this week’s One Word Photo Challenge: Rain 🙂

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W is for Wide-Angle…

Up until 5 years ago, my only practical experience of photography was as seen through a wide-angled lens. I know they have their shortcomings, but nevertheless I quite like seeing my usual three-dimensional world-view flattened out two-dimensionally before me, smaller but wider, slightly curved and perhaps a little warped along the outermost edges. And because even relatively close subjects appear so much smaller through a wide-angle lens than with the naked eye, there is something unavoidably in-your-face about having to be so up-close-and-personal to whatever it is you want to be photographing, having to be so obviously present on the very threshold of the shot, almost being part of the scene you want to capture. For me it creates a different perspective to your photography, in every sense of the word.

For landscapes urban or natural you can see the entire vista immediately before you with a wide-angle lens, without having to step further back in order to fit it all in and risk obstructing your view – which is great, especially in the city. But I find you can also take great people-shots too, with plenty of context to show them as an integral part of the overall framed subject rather than having them individually posed as in a portrait with a deliberately bland background. And of course whatever you take in the original frame, large-file digital images can always be cropped slightly afterwards to help emphasise the main point of interest as necessary. I like to go by the maxim that you can always crop something out later, but you can never add more to the final image.

I’m not always comfortable having people in shot, but I definitely want to improve my street photography skills so will be working on using my Panasonic Lumix GF3 with 14mm (28mm equivalent) pancake lens more effectively to this end in the future…

Hollow Ponds Boating Lake, East London; Borough Market, South London; and an outdoor stairway along London’s South Bank…

boating lake

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V is for Visually Pleasing…

Sometimes I find myself taking a random photograph completely off-the-cuff just because I find the framed scene visually pleasing, however mundane or everyday it may actually be as a general subject. I just loved the way these discarded beer bottles upturned onto iron railings blended in to the background greenery; and the abstract shapes made by the rippling water reflected onto the underside of the bridge crossing Regent’s Canal at Camden Lock caught my eye – I just had to capture it while it lasted…bottlesunder-canal-bridge

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U is for urban Landscape…

I really love the idea of candid street photography – capturing those snapshot moments of everyday urban life completely un-staged – but I’m still really uncomfortable having real people in shot without asking them first, which of course defeats the purpose. So for now this type of photography definitely remains a work in progress for me. Taking pictures in a touristy place helps a lot, as people are used to seeing other people with cameras so it’s much easier to blend in unnoticed, but even so I don’t find it easy…

Skateboarders hanging out along London’s South Bank…

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But in the meantime, I also like to photograph the built-up, ever-growing city itself, not only the well-trodden tourist paths but those busy, bustling places where everyday Londoners live and work. A walk around the Canary Wharf area of London’s Docklands – for years left derelict and now the city’s new financial district – epitomises the energising urban regeneration that is still underway today. The entire East End has changed out of all recognition over the last thirty years, so I think it’s good to keep recording that ongoing development as it happens…

Original derricks still in place on West India Dock juxtaposed with new high-rise banking businesses… docklands-derricks

Colourful new cranes still at work along the water’s edge… urban-regeneration

Underground sign and red post-box… underground-sign

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T is for Tripod…

One good thing about me doing this A-Z challenge (and there have been many along the way) is that I’ve finally forced myself to try using a tripod. OK, so I may initially have borrowed one of the smallest tripods I’ve ever seen in order to get started – a truly mini table-top version (actually made for a compact camera) that fits reasonably comfortably (at a push) on my diminutive Panasonic GF3 – but it did the job in helping me at least attempt the relatively slow shutter speeds I was looking for.

I took these colourful motion-blur carousel pics along London’s South Bank in the early evening with the above cobbled-together ensemble balanced carefully on the surrounding metal barrier – they’re not perfect, but are not bad for a first attempt, and I’m really surprised at just how little time you need to get a decent blur on moving subjects… carousel1 carousel2

I’m also surprised to find I really like the mini-tripod idea – the short splayed legs work well for what I want, because living in a city there’s (almost) always something somewhere to balance a tripod on, but it was clear I need something with a far more substantial head to provide proper stable support for both my CSC and DSLR…

My solution has been to buy myself a Manfrotto Pixi Mini Tripod – it’s small yet both my cameras can sit securely on it, and its simple compact design (it looks a bit like a squid with the legs closed) and practical ball-head make it perfect for my needs, so this way I can get the best of both worlds with stable slow shutter speeds and compact portability – perfect! I took these atmospheric slow shutter-speed daytime shots at Canary Wharf, London Docklands, with my new little tripod on its first ever field trip and a variable ND filter on my Nikon D3000 – another first for me. I wanted to try to make a very busy public space seem relatively empty, with the people effectively ghosted out, and again I’m reasonably happy with the results for a first attempt… canary-wharf-clocks canary-wharf-stationI think it’s safe to say that now I have my little tripod I’m going to be doing a lot more experimenting with slow shutter speeds in the future, it was fun 🙂

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S is for Seasonal Subjects – Spring

I’ve had a change of mind regarding my topic for S… I was planning to post a varied selection of images taken with my smartphone camera, but after yet another enjoyable walk in our local park with my Nikon and 35mm (50mm equivalent) prime (again!) to see if the spring bluebells were blooming in bulk (rather than just a few dotted around here and there) I realised that I really do love photographing seasonal subjects. I grew up in a farming community in rural Scotland where life revolved around accommodating for and adapting to the different seasons, and it seems that old habits die hard. Even here in London we still have clearly-defined seasons, you just have to look a bit harder to find them…

Spring is all fresh green shoots and new growth bringing a welcome burst of colour after the drab, dull greys of winter in the city; summer in London means a warm dry landscape of parched straw-coloured grass, shady full-leafed trees and deep azure skies; autumn is a blustery riot of russet and copper and gold foliage-fall regularly dampened with squally rain; and winter brings the promise of beautiful clear frosty mornings, the occasional snow flurry, bare skeletal branches and spectacular dark brooding skies to capture through my lens. And just when we’ve had enough of depressing darkness the days begin to lengthen again, the first signs of spring appear, and the cycle starts all over again…

We’re so lucky to have so many bluebells growing in the woods close to where we live, and however old I get I hope I never lose the magical feeling of walking through peaceful woodland carpeted with flowers (always sticking to the designated paths, of course). They’ve only really started blooming en masse within the last few days so aren’t quite at their absolute bluest and best yet, but I hope you enjoy seeing them nonetheless…

bluebell-woods-1 bluebell-woods-2 bluebell-woods-3 bluebell-woods-4 bluebell-woods-5 bluebell-woods-6 bluebell-woods-7 bluebell-woods-8 bluebell-woods-9 bluebell-woods-10

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Q is for Quality, and Quantity…

Hmmm… I feel a bit ambivalent about all the technological advancements in photography these days – it no longer holds true that the camera never lies as digital darkroom image manipulation helps us concoct the most creative chimera, developing each of us into a virtual Doctor Frankenstein. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great to be able to correct faults and flaws to improve the quality of an otherwise disappointing shot, but sometimes for me that ‘correction’ seems to be taken too far, with the resulting image becoming almost monstrous in its attempt to appear real.

Although not a photographic purist, personally I’m not really one for utilising too much digital manipulation – I’ll crop an image if and when it needs it, or change it to greyscale, but that’s about it – with my images it tends to be what you see is what you get, warts and all. At heart I want to be a photographer, not a computer software wizard. Hyper-reality can be used to great deliberate effect though – I do love these over-saturated images I took of Neal’s Yard in Covent Garden, London, taken using a ‘pop-art’ filter on my old Olympus E-450, my very first DSLR… OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And another thing, with digital cameras being built in to our ubiquitous mobile phones, I find that photography favours an almost throwaway feel nowadays in that some people (usually of the younger generation – God I’m getting old!) no longer put any thought into the sheer quantity of shots they fire off, or care about how bad the resulting images are, because they can all be so easily discarded and replaced with something new along the way. I mean, I too take loads of pictures all the time, but always with my eye on achieving that elusive image that takes my breath away, that I can maybe even print out and frame on my wall – alas I’ve still a long way to go yet before finding it.

I’ve taken some perfectly presentable shots with my ever-present smartphone (more of that when I get to ‘S’), so I know that modern phone cameras are quite capable of achieving surprisingly decent pics and it’s great always to have that option available. But flying in the face of built-in image-obsolescence, for me the aim of trying to produce at least one good quality photograph to keep for posterity wins hands down over littering copious quantities of badly-composed, thoughtlessly-snapped, blurry images all over Facebook… sigh!