Lightroom example – field of flowers

In the past I’ve struggled to get good results taking shots of fields of flowers. In Yorkshire, where I lived until recently, May and June are spectacular months with the pastures becoming carpets of yellow and the woods carpets of blue. I’ve never really taken a shot of this that I’ve been entirely happy with but I’ve been getting better thanks to Lightroom. Continue reading

Surprise View

As you drive down Borrowdale from Keswick in the Lake District and you’re hoping for panoramic views along the lake and north to Skiddaw it can be frustrating. It’s hard to find that perfect view, except at one point – Surprise View. A rock platform juts out and gives that perfect scene – Derwentwater, Bassenthwaite, Keswick, Skiddaw. It’s right next to the road, too. In the summer holidays this has an obvious side effect – crowds. Of course, you know the saying, “You’re not in traffic, you are traffic”. I sat patiently waiting for the sun to go down and the people to go but that didn’t seem likely. There was a family in front of me who had settled down with a picnic table, not to mention the bride and groom having some of their wedding photos taken.

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Whistling Sands part 2 – morning

I usually describe my wild camping as “lying down with my eyes closed” rather than “sleeping”. This trip was no different. Alarm at 4:45, straight back in the bag as I realised the sun wasn’t anywhere near up yet. Straight back out again as I realised I needed a pee anyway and I wasn’t asleep. As it turned out I wouldn’t see the sun until nearer seven, due to not checking the sunrise time the night before and also the hill behind me.

Not to worry though. All the lack of sleep of all the bivvy trips this year was more than made up for by the beautiful shots I got this morning. Some of these will definitely be in stock for my next market.

These were taken on the main beach, not the small cove I’d been in the night before. The tide had been in and washed the sand clear and the waves were a little bigger.

Whistling Sands part 1 – evening

Whistling Sands is one of those magical places of childhood. We went there on holiday a few times as kids and it was one of my absolute favourite places, a wonderful beach of golden white sand, rocks, pools, cliffs and waves.

It also has a place in my early photographic career. I went there for a weekend and got a couple of shots that are still part of my sales stock. Taken on slide film, I liked the colours and composition but the foreground is blocked up shadow and that’s always irked.

I finally decided to forsake the mountains and go back to the seaside for an overnight wild camping trip to see if I could improve.

Whistling Sands is known on the map as Porth Or. It’s way down the Lleyn peninsula in north Wales. It’s a fair old drive so the whole peninsula feels a bit wilder, a bit off the beaten track. The Whistling name comes from the sand which makes a distinctive sound as you walk across it, something to do with the grain structure.

I got there early to work out the angles and spy out bivvy sites. It was heaving. Not surprising, one of the best beaches in the area on a hot sunny day in the school holidays. It didn’t spoil it though, it didn’t feel overcrowded.

I had hours before the interesting light so I just wandered. Past the top end of the beach is another more isolated cove with a very narrow, steep approach. This turned out to be full of really interesting rock formations and I ended up staying there until the sunset.

The evening light was good and the scenery didn’t disappoint but somehow the pictures don’t match my hopes. Stay tuned for part 2 though, as the shots I took the next morning more than make up for this.

My bedroom was the grassy headland just above. I had stars above and the sound of waves below. Life’s not so bad.


One of the interesting things I saw was lots of these weird things:

Strange things found all over the beach, I’m guessing some kind of egg case.

I’ve been asking around but can’t find out what they are. They feel plasticky but I’m sure they’re natural. They were all over the beach. Some of them have a indigo-coloured sticky inky residue on their base. They’re about two inches long. I’m guessing some kind of egg case.

Using graduated ND filters with a mirrorless camera

It’s been a while since my affections transferred from my big Pentax K20D SLR to my little Olympus OMD-EM10. The Olympus gives better picture quality, is a lot smaller and lighter and easier to use, and I’ve decided I like electronic viewfinders.

But I’m still taking the Pentax with me as a second camera when I go out on shooting trips. The simple reason is the sky. I bought a set of Lee neutral density graduated filters a long time ago, when I was still on film. For slide film I always wanted to get the exposure perfect on the slide (not like using ETTR with digital) and taking sunsets and sunrises means the sky is nearly always brighter than the ground.

I initially found two problems with using my Lee system on the Olympus. First, I didn’t have a lens adapter ring to fit. I was speaking to a man on the Lee stand at the last NEC photography show and he said they didn’t do an adapter that small for my system. He also said that the existing filters, even the hard grads, are a little too soft in the transition for a smaller sensor.

They’ve supposedly solved these issues and you can now buy adapters, holders and filters from Lee specifically aimed at small sensor cameras. But, is there another problem?

I was playing around yesterday trying to see how I could bodge something up to use my filters with the Olympus and I noticed something else. The EVF of course adjusts its brightness to the scene, so you always see a mid-bright view. Using DOF preview, as you slide the filter down as soon as the dark part comes into play the EVF (and rear screenn) compensates and brightens a little. End result, you can’t see the transition.

I think it needs more investigation. Perhaps next time I go to a photography equipment show I’ll get them to do a demo for me. I’ll still need to shell out for a brand new set of filters and holders so until I sell some more prints I’ll have to keep schlepping the Pentax around with me.

Sensor cleaning

I’ve had spots on the sensor of my Pentax K20D for some time. In fact I think they were there for some years before I finally noticed.

I splashed out on some stuff – Eclipse Optic Cleaning  fluid and Sensor Swab sensor cleaning swabs. VERY expensive for what you appear to get, I think you’re mostly paying for some reassurance that the swabs are made in an aerospace-grade clean room and guaranteed to be free from anything nasty that might scratch your sensor. Let’s face it, if you damage your sensor then that’s your camera gone.

Here’s a shot of a plain background that shows the problem.

Dirty marks on my Pentax sensor

You can clearly see the marks.

Cleaning on the Pentax starts by choosing the sensor cleaning menu option – Set-up -> Sensor Cleaning. You choose Mirror Up, press OK and the mirror flips up and stays up until you turn the power off.

Next you follow the Sensor Swab instructions. A drop of fluid on a new swab and swipe twice across the sensor, once with each side of the swab.

However – here’s where the experience comes in. While you’ve still got the mirror up, look very closely at the sensor surface. If you look carefully you may be able to see the dirt spots. I found they either didn’t go away first time and needed some mild “scrubbing” with the swab, or even that I replaced one dirt mark with another. I used three swabs in total, needing to scrub with one of them. I could see the marks with my naked eye and I could see when I had scrubbed enough. Scrubbing is perhaps an exaggeration – rubbing might be a better word, back and forth over the mark until it went.

Between each pass I had to take a shot (unfocussed, to make sure anything I saw was a sensor artifact) of a plain white background and import into lightroom to see what I could see. After three swabs all the marks had gone.

You need to be very careful before you start that you don’t have anything abrasive on the sensor, like a grain of sand. You really wouldn’t want to swab that across. Also be careful not to put too much fluid on the swab or it might leave a wet streak.

PS: I also got my Lee filters out to clean them after a trip to the seaside. Warm soapy water and a good rinse, perfect. I’d be careful in a hard water area though.

Photography 101

The first lesson every photographer should learn – when taking pictures on a pristine beach, don’t first walk all over it and leave your own footprints everywhere. More on this when I publish the shots from my recent trip to the beach and you may see what I mean.