Sunday, 29 March 2009

Introspective... Sutton Backlane

Every so often when I update the main site, I feature a photo that I really enjoyed crafting. When it's time for the next, I move the current one here.

So here it is. A back lane in the Sutton area, looking towards Sutton Harbour and the Barbican. Shepherds Lane, Plymouth, 2008.

I was doing what I call an opportunist photo shoot - a walk around the areas close to where I live to see what turns up.

I'd seen this back lane many times (people including me have often used it as a cut-through during the rush-hour) but I'd never seen it looking down towards the Barbican and it looks totally different. Luckily we had fairly fast-moving broken, but angry clouds. This gave different lighting conditions by the minute as the clouds scudded across the sky.

Composing and making the capture

Composition was fairly straight forward, it was an obvious choice to go for a vertical format, to frame the whole lane and to give the emphasis to following the road/cobbles with the eye.

I made sure there was a diagonal lead in, using the kerb and the handy dog-leg at the bottom left.

Finally, I made sure that the place where the lane came to a point with the diminishing perspective, was close to one of the thirds' power points. I was happy the way this lead the eye on to the roofs of the Barbican beyond.

The ground was still damp after on-off light drizzle and you could see how reflective it was - so I knew I would get a high contrast shot (just as I like them).

Exposure, ISO etc.

I was using my trusty Canon EFS 17-85mm IS USM. It was a bit dark so I set my ISO to 400. This would give some noise in the sky but to get the wide depth of field I wanted (basically, from my feet to infinity), I needed to be at f9. I exposed for the darker right hand wall and ended up with 1/125 sec. If the light hadn't been changing so quickly, I might have dropped to ISO 200. But there you go...

Digital darkroom

Once it was in the digital darkroom, I treated it pretty much as standard for this sort of challenging shot (one with a wide dynamic range).

I combined three exposures (from the one RAW file) and worked on that. A bit of TLR capture sharpening first, convert to mono, paying particular attention to the overall interplay between the bushes, stone and sky, followed by some noise reduction in the sky.

A tweak on the curves to increase the contrast and a slight adjustment to the levels around the mid-tones and that was it.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Second pot shot out of the digital darkroom

Pot number two out of the digital darkroom from the shoot at the potter's workshop. Again, as part of this glazing process, the pot is placed on a bed of wood shavings prior to sealing it all with an upturned metal bin.

This will allow the pot, glaze, smoke and reducing atmosphere to work their magic...

Friday, 27 March 2009

The pot firing shoot, part 1

This is the first one from Wednesday's photo shoot. The pot had just come out of the kiln and had been placed on a bed of wood shavings.

For the type of glaze being used, a reducing and carbon-rich atmosphere is needed. The heat from the pot ignites the shavings and an upturned metal dustbin over the pot seals everything in.

The free oxygen is quickly used up by the burning wood
(hence the term "reducing"), producing mainly carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and free vaporised carbon, and this is the atmospheric mix in which the magic of the glaze occurs.

Of course, many, many other factors go towards the nature of the finish, for example using a slip as part of the process, like here. Look closely at the front surface of the pot, and you can see some of it peeling away and down.

Hmmm... got my arm twisted again :)

Well, regular readers and people who know my work will know I don't really do colour, and I don't usually do commissions.

...and those who know me real well will also know that I'm a firm believer in the axiom that the only reason that rules exist is so you think about it a bit before you break them.

So that took me to a potter's garage-studio yesterday to get some shots for his blog.

Trying circumstances... my camera kit all now smells of the smoke from the reducing wood shavings used.

So today I'm pulling the shots I got into the digital darkroom to see what I've got and to whittle them down to the one or two for his blog.

More later...

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Hacking and cobbling stuff together

I'm rather pleased with myself... it's been a hard old slog over many days to achieve the gadget-ified scrolling image selector you (hopefully) see here.

...and I'll finish writing this post when I can see it works (after the usual test, test and test again)!

Ok, it does - and with only a minor hiccough (see if you notice!).

So, why was it all so hard?

Well, first of all, what actually is going on here? Hover with your mouse to the left of centre, and the piccies scroll towards the beginning of the gallery, and vice versa.

Click on a thumbnail, and it takes you to a page (opens in a new tab) with a larger version of the picture, showing what it looks like in a frame, and letting the visitor buy one of the limited editions of that picture, using PayPal as the payment processor.

Well, in the dim and distant past I once saw someone who claimed they were "doing programming" and, when I looked over his shoulder, thought it all looked a bit like witchcraft to me with strange runes, spells and incantations.

Little did I know I'd end up wrestling and doing battle with the slippery little things! It only began to dawn on me when I was researching how to achieve my vision above, that I was going to have to do a bit of "programming" myself.

I use the term cautiously, it was more akin to hacking and chopping, with a fair bit of kludging, hair-tearing and plead-offerings to the
bittybyte silicon gods of the megaverse, thrown in as well.

And there was me thinking, a quick search on google to find a suitable bit of javascript, a deft bit of cutting and pasting and chucking in my own urls and... done deal, or so I niaively thought :)

Once it was all hanging together (small word "once", to really get the meaning across, I need a word that echoes trail blazing over virgin mountains during a blizzard, while suffering from snowblindness and frostbite in eleven toes, or crossing the vast desert plains of the kalahari with only a swiss army knife, a small flagon of dehydrated water to hand and an impromptu overly-friendly "hopping" bird for company, "once" just doesn't seem to cut it) it was easy enough to google gadget-ify it.

..And the problem, well it's not fully transportable - when the scroller has less than 500 pixels to display in, the javascript that drives it still thinks the center is 250 pixels from the left. The width of this blog means the google gadget that contains it can't be wider than 400 pixels - the end result is that to scroll to the right you need to hover much further than right of center than you should.

Obviously my plead-offerings to the gods weren't quite up to par!

If only I knew how to change the javascript to make it right. Hmmm.

I suppose I should say, the advantage of having it gadget-ified is that it is dead easy for friends (and people who find it in the google gadgets directory and who like it enough) to add it to their blog, website etc. See how easu it is yourself, just click the google + button under the scroller to see just how easy it is.

Monday, 16 March 2009

A new rival to google? Perhaps not....

I watched an interesting (sort of) video on the BBC website about Google and how its cutting back its horns in some of the madder areas of R&D.

As usual aunty Beeb provided a bit of balance by talking to a relatively new entrant to the search engine sphere,,
with offices opposite Google's - nice bit of finesse!

Of course, the first thing to do was submit my various web sites, and those of friends / colleagues that were to hand.

Here's the email I sent to

Can you add to your search engine:
My websites:
..and those of friends / colleagues:
Mark Ridley
PS found out about you via a BBC feature about google.
PPS To the CC List folks - connect up with me and each other via my highton-ridley web site using Google Friend Connect. If you have a Gmail or AIM account, an opendid, a flickr account and others, you can sign in using those profiles - no need to provide yet another registration! Explained and usefulness here:

They all owe me a beer!

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Mutter, mutter....

Aw heck, found out today my blog's feed had gone screwy. Sorted now.

The Genius of Photography

Just been watching this inspiring documentary on BBC 2. This was part 4/6, covering from the late 50s onwards.

There were all sorts of things covered, from b&w intimate street work to the more inclusive colour street work as imposed by the slower shutter speeds demanded when using colour for that type of work (i.e. needing a good dof but slower speed to counteract noise). Still that's an SEP, a JFT while I concentrate on mono :) SEP - somebody else's problem; JFT - job for tomorrow

It was really interesting to listen to well-known contemporary (and less so) photographers commenting on others' work as well as their own. Sort of comforting to hear some of your own understanding of situations / scenes being confirmed by the acknowledged greats.

That conformation then leads to a better comprehension of hat's being said next and its those parts that I found inspiring. I've now got some new approaches / techniques slotted away in the back of my mind for whne the opportunity presents itself.

Note to self - must watch the last two parts!

Friday, 13 March 2009

A brief summary of Dodging and Burning

Here's a reply I gave to someone on Flickr asking what dodging and burning was all about

@ r0ckstarlette D&B is all about "adjusting the tonal interrelationships" in an area by simulating an increase or decrease of exposure, just for that area.


If a sign in shadow is a little too dark to read, and you want it to be read, dodge just the sign, and you will lighten it in comparison to the areas you didn't dodge.


Has someone's face in a group shot got caught in bright sunlight (but the rest are normally exposed)? Burn the bright face to darken it.

Of course, with tools like Photoshop and others, you get a lot of control in applying those tools. Like being able just to burn the highlights, or just to dodge the shadows.

So in brief, that's it.

Of course, like anything, it can be used very creatively, if you know that using it in specific ways gives specific, predictable results.

making texture tactile

For example, I use it a lot in shots where I'm concentrating on texture as part of the overall feel. Remember, I'm really just simulating what the eye is capable of if it were there (which mine is and was!).

the eyes have it

We don't notice it, but as we look around, our eyes are continually adjusting exposure. Even in bright daylight, if we focus on a small patch of shadow, our irises open up a bit to let in more light - and we see the contrast between light and shade within the shadowy area - look away and the irises close down again in reaction to the brightness they're now looking into.

Still cameras can't do that, so we resort to d&b.


Have a look at this shot where I've used creative dodging and burning extensively in the grass - especially in the f/g. I concentrated on dodging just the highlights and when the mid-tones got too close to the highlights, I burned just the mid-tones back down again.

I did all this on a new overlay layer, filled with overlay-neutral grey. I dodged and burned on that layer and then adjusted the opacity to fine tune things. (and deleted the layer and tried again a few times till I was happy - you gotta 'speriment!)

The key to it as mentioned by others, is a small soft brush, a low strength and long sweeping movements. Never burn the highlights, and never dodge the shadows (and remember that the purpose of having rules, in the words of author Terry Pratchett, is so that you think before you break them).

Also, I'm not an expert (learning, learning, every day a schoolday!) but the above summarises what I've learned so far.

Everyone else, please free to correct me or comment. If you're interested in bw, use your flickr id to join my website via google friend connect -

Hope that helps,

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Mobile version of site

I've almost finished preparing the mobile version of my main site.

I've done a slide show consisting of entirely portrait photos, with another version to do for landscape. The intention is that a phone user will be able to view all images the right way up and filling the screen, but will only need to rotate their phone once for each slideshow.

Not sure yet whether to put them on separate pages...

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Photos in Public Places

Today I wrote to my MP about the treatment of photographers and their kit when taking shots in public places.

I was spurred on by a report of an Early Day Motion started in Parliament regarding street photography:

Early Day Motion

EDM 1155

Mitchell, Austin

That this House is concerned to encourage the spread and enjoyment of photography as the most genuine and accessible people's art; deplores the apparent increase in the number of reported incidents in which the police, police community support officers (PCSOs) or wardens attempt to stop street photography and order the deletion of photographs or the confiscation of cards, cameras or film on various specious ground such as claims that some public buildings are strategic or sensitive, that children and adults can only be photographed with their written permission, that photographs of police and PCSOs are illegal, or that photographs may be used by terrorists; points out that photography in public places and streets is not only enjoyable but perfectly legal; regrets all such efforts to stop, discourage or inhibit amateur photographers taking pictures in public places, many of which are in any case festooned with closed circuit television cameras; and urges the Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers to agree on a photography code for the information of officers on the ground, setting out the public's right to photograph public places thus allowing photographers to enjoy their hobby without officious interference or unjustified suspicion.

You can see the uk parliament page here and check if your MP has signed up to it - there were 245 as of today (including mine, Linda Gilroy).

If not, write to your MP using - they make it easy to find out who your MP is and make the whole process of emailing them v. easy

If this spurs you on, leave a comment here saying you wrote to your MP about it.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Today I found out I'm a...

..pictorialist and would, if the group still existed, be a bit of a photo-secessionist, too.

Not in the sense of emulating painting or etching, but more like one step removed from this - emulating what painters and etchers are trying to emulate in their chosen visual medium (as do sculptors, potters and other artisans...).

When we see a scene, as well as taking everything else in, we are seeing arrangements of line and pattern, shade and tone. The way our eye and mind "sees" these arrangements, tweaks various parts of our visual senses - some responses are hard-wired in us; most are deeper, connecting with our experiences and there's a whole lot of responses in-between.

I think artists use this knowledge of the more hard-wired visual responses to these arrangements as one of the assisting fundamentals in their artistic expression. Whether learned or simply just understood at a subconscious level, the more successful ones use it to their advantage - just look at their work.

I think that's what I mean about being a pictorialist - the great artists of the past and present were all doing this - and it's that that I'm trying to emulate.

For a learner like me, though, I need to work in black and white / monochrome as it takes away all the distracting complexities of colour. This helps me to focus on the relationships and arrangements between line and light, texture and tone, pattern and perspective, structure and abstraction.

Maybe as this becomes more like second nature I'll turn to colour much more often... but not for now :)

Not sure if I've expressed this very well, but there you go...

Sunday, 1 March 2009

QR Code for my blog

I discovered QR codes today. Here's the one for a mobile version of this blog. To create it I used

Want one for your own page? Use the following, but put in your url where indicated:
The s/w for mobile phones is called UpCode and can be downloaded here (works with most mobiles):
Compatible phones listed here:


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