Thursday, 30 September 2010

Blue Moon

Autumn is here again, and the moon is visible during the day for longer and longer as the nights draw in. Snapped this at about 11am at 15x zoom (approx 480mm equiv). 1/125 second exposure so not nearly as fast as is required when shooting the moon at night.


Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Guitars of Metal

Last night saw Lacuna Coil return to Sheffield for the 2nd time, marking the 3rd time I've seen them live. The first time was in 2006 at the Corporation, the same venue they played yesterday. The second time was in Manchester Academy earlier this year. Yesterday's set was, by far, the best I've ever seen them play.

On to photography, then, and I, obviously, took my camera with me. Aside from the obvious gig pictures capturing the moment, I had a theme in mind. What is more central in metal music than the guitar? Well, the drums, I suppose. But they're in everything. Vocal styles vary wildly, extra instruments play their part, but the humble electric guitar is right there in the centre of just about every metal song there is. Unless it's being played by Apocalyptica, but they can be the exception that proves the rule. Or something.

Anyway, I don't have to justify my choice of theme to you lot. It's guitars. So there. On to the pictures!


The main picture of the day today is of Mark, the vocalist and lead guitar of Troika, yet another great Sheffield band that I'm taking the time to find out more about. My favourite part of this picture is the reflection of his hand in the surface of the guitar, and the curve shape made up of his body, the guitar neck, and the angle lights taking the viewer's eyes up and over the side of the image.


Next up is Marco Biazzi's guitar from Lacuna Coil. It's a shame the top right corner is cut off a little, but I think the picture works well as it is. Plenty of interest left and centre, and the diagonal keeping it looking at least a little bit dynamic.


This here is Cristiano Migliore's guitar from the other side of the stage. I like this picture, but it's entirely too dark and there's not enough contrast. I tried to boost it a little but the high ISO means it's too noisy to be rescued, which is a shame.

I took a couple of others pictures of Troika and Slaves To Gravity, but the lighting conditions meant they didn't come out. Really need to take the dSLR to things like this. Manual focus and a massive sensor are a must for this type of lighting arrangement.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Vikings!

The longboat Milk Bottle sails the Candlewick Sea, seeking treasures to loot and lands to conquer.


One of the fun things about being a dad is helping the kids with their various school projects. A milk bottle, some packing tape, and various bits of paper, card and plastic came together to make this rather striking Viking longboat.

Here is the master boat-builder with his creation.


Saturday, 25 September 2010

The Patter Of Tiny Feet

Not in the usual sense. I'm talking about the more verminous kind; tiny rodents who take up residence in the skirting boards and urinate all over the place. Lovely.

Here is my ultimate solution.


I'm sure the animal lovers will tell me off for not using humane traps, but frankly they're rubbish. I have tried a variety of them and the problems with them generally fall under one of three categories:

  1. The mice don't actually go in them. Just sniff the entrance and then walk around.
  2. They don't trigger. I've sat and watched a mouse walk into a trap and come back out with the bait.
  3. The mice can get back out again. Again, I've witnessed a mouse be able to squeeze back out, although without the bait that time.
One thing I make sure of is that the springs are good and strong. Nothing worse than a trap going off and not actually finishing the job. I always get good quality, and thus far kill traps are winning at a rate of about 75 to 1. 

Friday, 24 September 2010

iPhone HDR - Nice or Naff?

Since iOS 4.1, the iPhone 4 has been able to do HDR, or High Dynamic Range, photography. This means that it can capture a much wider range of brightnesses than other cameras by combining multiple exposures into a single one. For example, one picture with a perfectly exposed sky combined with an identical picture that's exposed for the ground makes a single picture that contains both sets of details.

Sounds like a good idea, and in theory it is. Even in practice, it is often great. Putting that blown out sky back in, or capturing detail in a brightly back-lit window when flash just isn't enough. But sometimes it's just generally awful. Search Google Images for "bad HDR" and have a look at the examples.

The old fashioned way of increasing dynamic range is simply to introduce a different exposure, and mask out the parts that you don't want replaced. In the ideal case, a flat horizon with sky above and ground below, a ND gradient filter on the camera lens, or a simple gradient filter in post-processing, will do the trick. Very much like this picture of a field I took a while ago, in fact.

The new way is something called "tone mapping" and involves averaging the tones of multiple exposures over the whole image. This results in pictures where none of the pixels are natural; they are all the result of post-processing.

And so to the point of this post; HDR on the iPhone. Sadly I don't have an iPhone 4, but I do have a copy of Pro HDR for iPhone 3GS. Its purpose is simple. Allow you to take two identical pictures, exposed for two different parts of the scene, and combine the two. Like this:


It's simple enough in practice, and the software can even pick the brightest/darkest areas and align your pictures (if your hands wobble) before making the final image. Doesn't look too bad, eh? There is some light halo effect around the leaves caused by them moving around in the wind in between the two pictures, but it mostly seems to have worked.

To do a proper comparison, I broke out the tripod and did it "properly" using a real camera. I took  2 exposures at f/6, at 1/1200 and 1/200 seconds respectively and put them together in The Gimp, ensuring that each exposure retained the important elements. I came up with this:


Doesn't look nearly as exciting, but it does look more realistic and natural. The iPhone's picture is clearly artificially oversaturated and, compared to the more pedestrian version taken with a camera and tripod, it looks pretty unrealistic.


Putting the two side by side emphasises the effect. The HDR image from the iPhone starts to resemble a painting rather than a photograph. This is especially evident in these cropped pictures of the hedge.



But what is the conclusion? That a properly taken image, processed to include the highlights of multiple exposures, is better than a quicky app on the iPhone? I think that much is pretty self-evident. But what you do gain on the iPhone app is very simple; speed.

Setting up the tripod, calculating the optimum exposures and taken them is the first issue with multiple exposures using a traditional camera. Aligning and processing them in post-processing is the second. All of this takes time and effort.  It took me approximately 10 seconds to take the picture on the iPhone. Taking and compositing the picture with the camera took closer to 20 minutes. That's a 12000% saving on time. And of course, I don't have to cart the tripod around for the iPhone.

So can I live with the results? Probably. HDR in post-processing using the iPhone is practically impossible because aligning the images is just too much hassle. Having the software take the two images rapidly then automatically align them takes all that had work out straight away. So if I don't have my normal camera with me, or if I want to snap a picture but don't want to spend the evening actually (hopefully) making it contain everything I want, then it's ideal and well worth £1.19.

Stuff On My Roof

If you were to look on a roof where a child lives, you might expect to see the occassional toy or two. A tennis ball, a frisbee, maybe a toy rocket or something. Today I was idly gazing out of the window and noticed, on my garage roof, an upturned toy car. What could have happened to cause such a thing to arrive there? A terrible road traffic accident? Or the mother of all Hotwheels tracks?


At first I did a bit of post-processing on it. Increase the contrast, boost the saturation, that sort of thing. Then I threw it all away and posted it as is. I think the low contrast helps, rather than hinders, the composition and gives it a lovely bleak feel. Much like the weather today!

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Monster Wheels

A while ago I posted about my ancient Zenit camera and wondered to myself how it would handle these days. Fortunately there was a film in it. Unfortunately I didn't know that and opened the back. D'oh! The exposures were pretty much useless, but a couple came out alright. It was ISO 400 so there is some film grain, but it looks a million times better than sensor noise.

The best one by some margin is this Mighty Wheels truck. Of course, back in the 80s they were Tonka trucks, but this is a somewhat less indestructible version. Still looks the part, though, and is a good compliment to any little boy's bedroom.

The exposure was a bit of guesswork. I stuck the rather simple flash unit atop the cold shoe, plugged in the PC cable and tried to figure out the exposure settings. The flash syncs at 1/30th second, so that was obvious, so for the aperture I just opened it as wide as it could go (f/2) and hoped for the best. According to the chart on the back on the flash unit, at 2' distance I should have been at f/22 or smaller. Based on that this picture should have been completely blown out, but it clearly isn't. More experimentation required.


Not bad, eh? It has that retro feel to the colours that you don't get without faffing with digital exposures. I like it. To demonstrate it a bit more, have a look at this picture taken in my back yard using the Sunny f/16 rule.


Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Café Rouge

Yesterday's pic is a view from the hotel window over the interesting roof of Café Rouge next door. I feel like I'm dropping the ball a bit at the moment, mostly due to most of my days being pretty much the same and pretty busy with work, so finding interesting things to take pictures of is difficult. Bear with me!


Monday, 20 September 2010

Stuck in St Albans ... Again

Here I am in yet another hotel room. Not long now and I can escape, but until then I've been wandering about. Completely by accident, I found this:



Commuting

No picture on Sunday. Went to bed early and was busy in the day. The reason I went to bed early was, of course, yet more commuting. Here is a picture about commuting.


Saturday, 18 September 2010

Time For Tea

Sometimes it gets to that time of an evening when only a cup of tea will do. Making a pot of tea at a birthday party I liked the contrast between the pink and green. As the old saying goes, the best camera is the one you have with you. I only had my iphone, so it had to suffice. I don't think it did too badly!

I also spotted this swirly pattern in the cocktail sticks so thought I'd include it, just because I like it.


Friday, 17 September 2010

Copper Beech

Autumn is here, and the leaves are turning. Some leaves, though, are red all the time. Specifically, the Copper Beech in my garden. I noticed today, as the sun sat low in the Autumnal morning sky, that the light shining through the bright red of the leaves caused interesting shadows and shapes to form between them. Shooting at maximum zoom (15x, or 480mm equiv) I shot directly into the sun, completely blowing out the sky and everything behind. Little tweak of the curves to bring out the red and remove some annoying purple fringing, and we have today's picture of the day.


Thursday, 16 September 2010

Sheffield City

A bit of a theme today: the history of Sheffield. Standing just under Sky Edge off City Road, I got a good view over the town centre. In fact, I could see everything from the far side of Nether Edge right over to the the top of Wincobank, and everything in between. Bramall Lane, the Sheffield Eye, the cheese grater that doubles as a car park. What struck me as I stood there is that the houses visible from Sky Edge are very old indeed. I've seen pictures of the very same houses from the turn of the 20th century.

As I look out over the city, I can see the shiny big wheel, the Winter Gardens, Mercure Sheffield St Pauls hotel, and many other things that make up the modern Sheffield. In the middle distance, halfway between the two, there is the hulking monstrosity that is Park Hill. And so today's picture tries to capture the history of Sheffield stretching out in front of me, from the very old at the bottom of the picture, to the very new at the top.


It wouldn't be fair, I don't think, to describe the view from up there without including a picture. Here's the view from the top. I didn't make a panorama - this is a crop of a single picture using a 28mm lens. Quite a view. I would have liked to take a longer exposure at a lower ISO to capture more detail, but didn't have my tripod with me and, quite frankly, I would have been blown clean off Sky Edge if I'd tried to hold it all down.


Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Rippage

One of the joys, for me, of getting a new CD is ripping it to MP3 format so I can put it on my iPod. Making sure all the tracks are properly tagged, getting the album artwork, making it nice; just generally making it well organised and tidy. I like today's pic because it almost looks like a selective colour picture. The white of the laptop and desk contrast will the red of the CD and it stands out for it.

And in case, for some reason, you can't read it, the disk is Judas Priest - Painkiller.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Keep Fit

Keeping fit is good for you. At least, that's what leading experts say. Not convinced, myself. But we did go for a bit of a trek on the cross trainer.




Monday, 13 September 2010

Traffic Lights

More experimentation today, this time with light shining through coloured liquid. Using a set of shot glasses and some mysterious coloured liquids I set up this little effort in the kitchen. Worked reasonably well. Had to cheat a little because the yellow was blown out so I used a shot taken with a lower exposure to add the detail back in. The liquids, in traffic light order, are: neat summer fruits cordial, diluted orange cordial and ... Fairy liquid. Wouldn't want this trio on a night out!



Sunday, 12 September 2010

Mmm Buns!

Today's picture is almost good enough to eat. The kids made Rice Krispie buns, and very nice they look too. Sadly I haven't had a chance to actually eat one yet ...


Saturday, 11 September 2010

Matlock Bath Illuminated Boats


It's a sort of annual tradition of mine to take the kids to see the Matlock Bath Illuminated Boats. I say "sort of" because it's been about five years since we last went. Oops! So to rectify that situation, we went earlier than usual this year. Turned out to be a good idea. The usual massive crowds experienced around half term week in October were nowhere to be seen. Much nicer!


The illuminated boats are a tradition started when the young Queen Victoria stayed in the village. Every year a competition is held for those who want to partake. This year's winner was Toruk Makto from Avatar.


Other finalists included Ecto 1 and Thomas the Tank Engine. I'm sure some of them have been entered before ...


There were the usual array of carnival type games on offer, including the biggest Hook-A-Duck I've ever seen. At £2 a pop it was perhaps a little too steep considering the 20p value of the prizes ...


Fortunately a good, old fashioned playground was available. Of course it had to be dark for the illuminations, but that never stops a roundabout.


To end the entertainment, the boats did one final pass under the bridge.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Dancing Shoes

No picture yesterday. Spent far too long trying not to fall asleep. Today's is a bit random. I found a pair of very old tap shoes while clearing out the house. Well, 4 years or so. Thought they matched my sideboard and lamp very well so I put the three together to make an almost naturally sepia, soft-toned image. See if I couldn't give it a touch of nostalgia or melancholy.



The lamp is always tilted like that. It's actually made that way. Yes, weird. Now, me being me, I couldn't help but fiddle, so here is a black and white shot to see how it would come out. I've tried to maximise contrast here.


I also realised that the old Zenit-E I took a picture of the other day had a roll of film in it. I've been running about merrily for 10 minutes using up the last handful of exposures, including a version of this very picture. I'll have the film developed and see what comes out. Hopefully my opening the back, only to discover a film in there, hasn't ruined it too badly.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Sunset on a fast train

Today's picture is a product of boredom. On the train home I was mucking about with continuous autofocus and wondered if I could get some nice pictures of the spectacular views I often whizz past at a hundred miles an hour. The answer would be no, because it was going dark and I was shooting into the setting sun. This made for some great sunset pictures, though, and here is my favourite. Taken at 1/500th of a second it freezes the motion of the train nicely, and it's fast enough to eliminate the reflections in the window.


Speaking of reflections, as the train went through a tunnel on the way to Chesterfield I made good(?) use of the black background to take a self-portrait of sorts. Putting the camera right up against the window resulted in this through-the-lens picture. The wide angle of the lens captured the reflections on the far side of the glass resulting in more detail than I expected. Completely out of focus and loads of camera shake due to a 3 second exposure on a fast train, but pretty cool anyway.


Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Sheffield Station

For reasons that are annoying and tedious, I found myself at Sheffield station at 5 o'clock this morning. My train wasn't due for another hour, so I took the opportunity to try my hand at some nighttime shots. I didn't have my tripod with me, so I had to be very, very steady handed. The picture was shot at f3.1, ISO 64, so a looooong exposure was needed. 8 seconds, in fact. Considering I was just resting my elbows on a wall, I think I did well to keep it non-shakey!


I'm really not very good at this "one a day" business, so here's another that I'm including for two reasons. First, because it looks nice, and second, because it's picture number 1337 since I bought this camera :D Like the other picture, this is an 8 second exposure at ISO 64.


Monday, 6 September 2010

Late Roses

My daughter pointed out to me that the rose bush growing up the front of the house has recently flowered. The roses at the back have bloomed and gone already, so it was something of a surprise. They are quite high up the wall, so photographing them from ground level would have needed step-ladders or some other unsafety equipment. So instead, I have photographed them from a slightly unusual angle; above and slightly to the left from my bedroom window. Putting the brickwork of the wall at the bottom grounds the image, and putting the roses at the "thirds" ties it together. A little bit of tweaking on the saturation and contrast to really capture the difference between the flowers and the brickwork is all I've done here.




Sunday, 5 September 2010

Day At The Museum

We took the kids to Weston Park museum today. There's loads of new activities to do, and the current special exhibition is about food stuffs. They had great fun dressing up as vegetables and messing about with the interactive exhibits.

Today's picture of the day is from the butcher's shop exhibit in the history of Sheffield section. They were buying and selling breakfast in the form of plastic sausages and eggs.


Saturday, 4 September 2010

First Dance

There's a reason I like to carry my camera with me, and today justified it perfectly. Sitting in the peace gardens enjoying a spot of dinner from the international food market, a couple appeared from the Town Hall registry office and wandered into the peace gardens. A band were playing on a stage near the fountain and the newlyweds approached them. They decided on a whim to have their first dance on the peace gardens in full view of the watching crowd. They say the best camera is the one you have with you, and when random things like this happen, having it with me is great!




Of course, the problem with this picture is that you can't actually see the band. It's the strongest picture, though, and captures the couple wonderfully. Here's the runner up that includes the band.




Friday, 3 September 2010

Out With The Old

Today I have been a little nostalgic. While cleaning up last weekend I unearthed my first ever SLR. This is the camera I cut my teeth on, so to speak, learning about metering, ISO, shutter speed and the like. It's a 35mm Zenit E, made in the USSR some time in the late 60s or early 70s. Of course, I wasn't around back then, and I'm sure this camera has seen a lot of exciting things in its long life.


It still functions well enough. Could probably do with a clean, but everything still moves, clunks and clicks like it should. It's actually quite a nice little thing. Entirely mechanical, of course, so no automatic anything. Everything from metering, film speed, shutter speed and remaining exposures are accessed via a selection of knobs and dials on the top, each of which manipulate one small spring or another. There's also some niceties, including a mechanical self-timer and a little plug for the flash, triggered by a piezoelectric discharge. No hot-shoe here.

The lens is actually quite nice. It's a Helios 44M 2/58 lens with an aperture range of f2 to f16. The 58mm fixed focal length is more than capable in most situations, although perhaps a tad too far on the telephoto side for photographs taken at close quarters. My 16' living room, for example, is not small enough for the lens to capture more than perhaps 1/8th of it. People seem to always be looming ominously close because it's not possible to get far enough away from them. Ideal for outdoor events, though.

Here is another picture of it to demonstrate the controls layout.


From left to right, we have the remaining exposures dial with shutter release and wind-on lever, then the film advance control that I put to good use making "ghostly" photos in the lounge. Next up is the shutter speed selector, going from 1/500th to 1/30th of a second (marked as the flash sync speed). The B option allows the shutter to remain open as long as the photographer likes, which can make for fun times trying to photograph swirling stars and other astronomical phenomena.

On the other side of the flash-shoe there is the metering control with a pop-up film rewind knob. This lets you select film speed (in ASA only) and then has a tiny moving needle, indicating the light reading from the large light sensor above the lens, that can be twiddled around to line up with a handy little circular target. Once that's all done, of course, you have to then manually set the lens to match the settings. Oh how spoiled we are, when all of that is done in the time it takes the autofocus to figure out what we're pointing the camera at. And no, it doesn't do autofocus.

Finally, here are a couple of pictures from the last roll of film I shot using this camera in 2003. Notice the incredibly high contrast and saturation of the images. I've left them as-is rather than trying to fix them because, like the LOMO effect so popular today, it's nice to remember both the occasion of the photo, and the camera used to capture it.