This blog is all about the fine art of monochrome photography. It includes hints and tips on composition and digital darkroom processes, achievements and images I'm pleased with, musings about this and that and items I find interesting.
I'm quite happy for it to grow like topsy, to evolve as it goes...
After another couple of hours in the digital darkroom, another shot. I don't think this one is different enough from the other two to stand alone but it might work with others as a triptych, as mentioned in my last post.
Pony Study 3
Grazing into the light (bad pun!)
I'll show you what I'm thinking of for the triptych:
What do you think, do the three work together like this?
A partner to the one in my last post and another working title for now.
Pony Study 2
(still to be named)
I'm really pleased with the way this one has turned out. The curve of the neck and those great textures in the mane are real nice. It was hard work but I managed to hold what I wanted of the muzzle to so as to hint at its form.
One more maybe still to do. It looks a little tricky so we'll have to see if it works or not. Anyway, I'll have to wait and see before I can work on the final names.
I was three hours in the digital darkroom with the first and two on this one. 1/2 an hour so far on the last one is what's told me it'll be tricky—so wish me luck!
It'll be great if it does work out—I can see them working well together as a triptych. Still, mustn't get ahead of myself!
I had some friends come visit and stay over last weekend. Little Laura was desperate to get to the Dartmoor Miniature Pony Centre, so off we went on Saturday. A great time was had, me too, and not just with the camera.
I watched, fascinated, as this huge white stallion used his muzzle to patiently unhook the fastener on the gate to his pen, only to be stymied... The staff, aware of his tricks, had tied the gate shut! You could see him look sideways at the orange twine as he pushed on the gate, trying to figure out why it wouldn't open. Great to see the intelligence in his eyes as this was happening.
Unfortunately it was much too dark in there for a shot and there's no way I'd disrespect the creature by using flash. Besides, I was so enthralled, I preferred just to watch :)
Anyway, here's the first shot that made it from the trip, just 'developed' in my digital darkroom.
A working title
Until I can properly name it, the working title is the practical, if uninspired, Pony Study 1. I still have one, maybe two more shots of ponies to process in a similar vein, so I'll likely not be able to make up my mind till then.
(still to be named)
In the meantime, I'm interested to know what title you might come up with for this. So, if something comes to mind, you know what to do... :)
Just a quick reminder that prize draw day approaches for August.
Hat Of Wonder And Hope
On 1st Sept I'll be counting up all the interactions in August (reviews, blog comments, wall comments, recommend this ticks) by my followers who are also my friends. I'll be putting one copy of their name in the Hat Of Wonder And Hope for each such (genuine) activity.
I see JamaGenie has been very active just recently—I wonder if it's related ;)
Good Luck everyone!
I should say that I'll be changing the rules for September. Google unfortunately doesn't give a way of counting friend activity automatically so I have to trawl through various places to count how many copies of each name goes in the Hat.
With 184 followers who are also friends, I reckon it might take a couple of hours or more this time. So for September's draw, I'm gonna have to come up with new rules that still rewards peeps for their participation.
Hi folks, I've been a little absent from your blogs recently, so sorry 'bout that.
I've been working on the "secret squirrel" project I mentioned in a recent post. For now I can let you know it's a photo essay / slide show, entitled "Plymouth - an intimate glimpse of a hidden and changing character", but that's all.. ..tease, tease!
I'll finally 'fess up to what's going on when I'm given the go-ahead.
I didn't want to leave a techy post at the top of my blog—far too frightening for my average visitor, hehe! So here's me back on safer territory—but just a quickie.
Forever Watching, Salisbury Cathedral
On a visit to Salisbury Cathedral with a wonderful girlfriend, Marina (mustn't digress, but how did I let her slip through my fingers?!), I was really taken by this particular statue. It 'spoke' to me in a way none of the other statues adorning this great cathedral did.
What I got from it initially was a rather benign feeling of someone watching over us in a caring sort of way. At the same time I got undertones of something else, not quite sinister but maybe something more of the secular power of the church.
Anyway, I tried to bring out those feelings by my treatment of the shot, in composition and viewpoint, as well as by dodging the whole statue in the digital darkroom to give it the presence I felt when there.
A diversion from photography for some blog maintenance ...and whew, am I glad that's over!
I'm slightly technical—just enough to be dangerous—and have long been trying to make something happen in my classic template that is a piece of cake in the layouts types of templates.
If your knees wobble at the mention of html, then this is not for you—nor if you use layouts templates (where you get to click and drag page elements around). If this is you, please go and do something more interesting—maybe have a look at my main site instead :)
Still here? Hokay, it's like this. I wanted to make sure that the 'titles' of the pages (the names that appear in you browser's tabs or in the browser's windows title bar) were 'friendly' to search engines.
What I'm talking about might seem fairly trivial but is one of those things that helps propel your blog to the top of the pile in search engine results. Well, maybe not so much a propelling, more of a bubbling up.
Before I started messing, every single page used my blog's name in the titles, as generated by the template.
Instead, I wanted my posts' titles (this post's title is 'Blog maintenance - SEO stuff') to be used on the post pages (the one you get to when you click a post's title). I know this will improve things from the search engines' points of view.
Now the greedy little search engine spiders, when feeding on the title meta tags on my pages, will get to dine on what I'm posting about (the post's title) rather than the same old, same old of my blog's name.
In my blog template (remember, this is a classic template) right at the very top, where it used to have:
I changed it to:
<MainPage><title>Musings in Monochrome - the art of bw photography</title></MainPage>
NB The tags in the last bullet look strange, with </title></blogger> seeming to be the wrong way round—but trust me, they're not. But I don't know why!
What is the effect?
Look at the title displayed by your browser in its title bar (or on the tab that this page is displaying in).
If you're viewing my main page, the title will be 'Musings in Monochrome - the art of bw photography'.
However if you're viewing it on its own post page it will have the title 'Blog maintenance - SEO stuff'.
Finally, if you're viewing it in the archive the page will have the title 'Musings In Monochrome: August 2009' NB The words "Musings In Monochrome" in this last example comes from my blog setup (blogger dashboard->settings->Basic->Title).
So that's 180 post pages that will now benefit. Surely that's got to result in more people finding me/my blog in searches? I use Google Analytics, so I'll be able to keep an eye on whether it does.
A photographer friend, John Miles, had invited me to see his digital darkroom set-up in Royal William Yard. On leaving, I noticed the beginnings of this arrangement as I turned right (I came into the scene 'stage left'). I backed up as far as I could, even leaning backwards over the rail a little to fill the frame with the composition I was after and made the shot. As usual, I fired off two or three (especially when there's lowish light and it's hand-held), just to make sure!
The title is chosen for the composition. The various compositional structures rotate, reflect, invert and repeat each other, much like JS Bach did with the themes in his fugues. There's also hints of Escher, with the deep perspective and hints of a jumping of levels.
I didn't need to do a great deal to this shot, just a little bit straightening and some dodging and burning to enhance the lighting and some of the textures.
I was staying at a friends a while back in their beautiful new home. It's in a development on what was Ipswich's war-time airport and in their back garden, I was struck by how isolating these spaces are.
Too much privacy?
Neighbours, Ipswich 2007
Some would say it's for privacy, and I guess that view has some merit. I just question the totality of it. I think that much more usual, and what I'm more used to, is hedges, low fences and walls, where you can still see your neighbour's space if you make a little effort—you know, crane your neck, trim the hedge, pick weeds out the wall. That way, it's still private, but not entirely off-cutting.
By this I mean that the out-of-sight, out-of-mind syndrone exists. You know, the SEP field generator used by Slarty Bartfast (Hitch-hikers Guide To The Galaxy) to hide his spaceship (SEP field—a field that works on the Somebody Else's Problem principle— if it's somebody else's problem, it hits your slippery-shouldered blind spot, where your subconscious knows it can safely ignore the existence of the thing and so you just don't see it).
So this image is a social comment about the slow destruction of real-world community by the treatment of people by large organisations as repeating homogeneous units, where one is the same as the next.
How you read the image is up to you—there's certainly heavy overtones of regimented uniformity; suppressed uniqueness, enforced uniformity—the way our personalities are wrapped up into little indistinguishable boxes.
I'm really pleased with myself again... the BBC news channel has published another of my b&w photos via their In Pictures blog for the theme "Dancing". It's the sixth in the series - the only black and white.
Blowing your own trumpet
This sort of publicity is good for any artist trying to break into mainstream recognition. It's the third time I've had work published by the BBC and am wondering how else I can use the fact to do more self-publicity.
If you've had any experience or have any thoughts I would certainly like to hear them and I'm sure so would the other artists who follow this blog.
With the anti-terrorism laws in the uk, innocent photographers have been 'harassed' by the police using poorly interpreted law. The MET (Metropolitan Police) have been tardy but have provided clarification that common practice exercised by police officers with regard to photographers has largely been wrong.
I'm a photographer not a terrorist
This is a summary of your rights and the police's powers. Download and print your 'bust card' here
Before I feature an introspective here, it's usually been on my main site's home page first.
So if you want an early preview of the next inrospective, have a look there. It may be a few hours or a day or so before the new one goes up. You know how it is—the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft aglay...
On being ready for the unexpected
or You make your own luck...
Sky Lambs—by the A303 in Wiltshire, Winter 2008 A beautifully framed and signed A2-sized print of this piece is available at the Martin Bush Studio Gallery, Royal William Yard (map)
I was returning from my paying day job in Staines last year, following the A303 on its winding, wending way through the fields of Wiltshire, following the contours of the land. The lighting and weather conditions were real nice and I had been stopping every handful of miles, looking around for shots.
Making the capture
Spotting the shot
On this stop, I was trying to find an angle and composition for something entirely different but it wasn't working out from where I was.
I was about to walk back to my car and noticed these extremely low, scudding clouds coming at me quite fast. So low, I felt I could reach up and touch them and this was accompanied by a slight shiver as my mind felt their cold clamminess on the back of my hand. All this flashed through my mind as I quickly scanned around, looking for a decent backdrop for them. This scene looked promising and turned out to be just perfect, I hope you'll agree.
Exposure, ISO etc.
As I'd already been trying stuff in pretty much the same lighting conditions, I knew that leaving the camera set to ISO 100 was right for this one.
By default I always have the camera set to aperture priority so I can control the depth of field easily. I know that f9 at the wide-angle end of my zoom lens (17mm focal length) means pretty much everything from my feet to infinity will be in focus.
As an aside, this knowledge is great for when you can't spare any time fiddling with settings and have to make the capture before the opportunity is gone. As long as there is enough light around so that the shutter speed to accompany f9 (or whatever aperture you choose while composing) is fast enough for the scene. Knowing that everything is going to be sharply in focus means you have one less thing to worry about. Heck, you can even switch to manual focus and shave some time off how long before the camera is ready to take the shot.
Anyway, with this set-up it was straightforward to quickly exposure-lock on the brightest part of the sky, recompose and make the capture before the clouds were gone.
To summarise, I converted from RAW and pulled it into Photoshop where I cloned out a telegraph wire that was intruding into the top left corner. Also consigned to oblivion by the clone tool were a couple of distant birds that were just black specks on the clouds.
As an aside, some folks get a little prissy about this, but a serious photographer knows it's the distractions which draw the eye and that they can ruin a shot. Being somewhat of an image tart, I have no such qualms—and by this, I mean that they didn't feature anywhere in my artistic intent and they were a distraction, therefore they didn't deserve to be in the image.
I then converted to black and white using a bw adjustment layer, juggling the sliders to get a close fit to the tonal relationships I was after. A bit of dodging and burning in the field to enhance its contours as I recalled them and that was it.
A final bit of sharpening and size reduction as I saved as a jpeg, and it was ready for upload.
Sticking in the vein of abstract architecture and how there's more than one shot in a scene...
It's just a concrete hotel
I was staying in a hotel by Heathrow Airport when I was working up that way. In the day in, day out trudge of it all, my antennae must have been out and twitching because after a few weeks I felt the urge to wander around the uninspiring grounds with my camera.
My first point of call was up-close and personal with the architecture. Soaring architecture often has a profound effect on me and, when you're close, the steep perspective exaggerates it.
So here's the up-close shot of the end of the building.
Holiday Inn, M4/J4
...and then I looked at my feet (actually a few steps away against another wall)
Then, walking amongst the trees that separate the hotel from the motorway junction, I saw I could frame yet another aspect of the building. Actually, the tree branches were swaying gently in the soft breeze, so I framed and then waited until they blew into just the right position for making the shot.
If you follow that middle panel of the end wall down to ground level, it was just to the side of this, looking up, that I made the first shot.
comments / critique / feedback - all appreciated :)
On this one, I was right by the wall at the side of the building, whereas the earlier one was taken from across and down the street.
I think you'll agree that they are radically different, and both 'work' even though it's basically the same scene. This in turn demonstrates that their are lots of different shots avaiable, so searching and finding the right one is an essential part of getting across your artistic intent.
So don't just turn up, whip out your camera and click away, put your feet to good use and get the viewpooint that conveys the sense of what you're feeling about the subject.
I was working in Staines (Ali G Massive!!) and on the regular run to Windsor, I kept seeing this monument, with it's twin on the other side of the road. I was determined to work out a shot and one day when I was passing, it so happened that the light looked promising. So I pulled over and hopped out to take a wander around, looking things over and searching for a viewpoint that worked for me.
As a by-the-way, for a long time I thought they were old toll houses but when I got up close, I realised they were some kind of a memorial. Later searching online turned up that they were designed by Edwin Lutyens, as a memorial to Broughton, sometime member of parliament and their form is known by the architectural term "kiosk and pier".
Knock, knock, anyone home?
..or I can be blind sometimes!
Anyway, as I checked out various angles, tried different points of view on this one and its twin, it began to dawn on me just how surreal the whole scene was. Those unusual buildings and stonework, set in their expanses of freshly manicured lawns in the middle of nowhere—no habitation within view, just trees on this side and fields on the other; all a bit, well, weird.
What really brought it home to me was the dramatic sky and the way the light fell across the scene—I felt almost like I was witnessing some vignette from "Alice through the Looking Glass". So, that's the objective I set myself, somehow to get that feeling into the shot.
Capturing its essence
I tried some up close, concentrating just on the architecture, and some from further away to take in the whole scene. I tried to get both twins in the shot but the road and a railing in between wouldn't play ball. So of the dozen or so shots I took, this is the one I thought underlined it most of all and so was a definite for processing.
Once there, I gave it a mild HDR treatment—but with a fairly heavy hand on the contrast. Next steps were to try to convey what I'd seen/felt "in the flesh". So, as a push towards the surreal, I gave it an infra-red feel by accentuating the yellows during the b&w conversion.
At the same time, I was real careful with the reds, so as to drag out as much tonal range in the stonework and clouds as I could—it was a bit of a juggle to make sure no highlights got blown, and all the while maintaining that other-worldly feel, but I kept a careful eye on the histogram as I went, to guide me.
A low-ish opacity soft-light layer, erased in the centre with a huge, soft-edged eraser, gave it the finishing touches.
What do you think, did I capture its essence? Do you like it, or is it not for you?
I thought I'd drag this one over from my main site as one to discuss briefly. It was another opportunistic shot as many of mine are. It was taken on the way back from a meeting (on my day job) in Bush House and heading to Temple tube station.
Blind Fan, Arundel Street, London, 2007
I was glancing around, looking for a shot based on the repeating patterns of the office blocks that had caught my eye on the way in.
As I checked around for a viewpoint that would take advantage of the way the bright sunlight was falling across it, I caught sight of the window with the damaged blind. It seemed almost to be winking at me, saying "Me! Me!".
I had to swap for my 70-300mm zoom lens to make the capture, being careful to position the blind at one of the rule-of-third's intersections. The face was in bright sunlight and the side in shadow and all I did in the digital darkroom was to accentuate the highlights and burn the shadows a little, to suit my artistic intent.
The result is beyond what I expected and I was—am—happy with the result.