Saturday, 26 February 2011

Runcorn Bridge

I managed to get out this week do a set of pictures I have had in mind now for some time. I needed to add some images of Runcorn or Silver Jubilee Bridge to our stock collection and wanted to try to capture the massive flock of Starling which come to roost on the bridge in the evening at this time of year. Great chance to do some combined urban landscape and some wildlife images in one go.

Firstly I wanted to do some long exposure images using the Lee 10 Stop ND filter. This is a tool which is very much in fashion at the moment and so long exposure images are in demand with the photographic press. Despite a very clear sky I did manage to get a few images I am pleased with.


The long exposure in this case about 20 seconds produces a lovely velvet like texture to moving water and cloud. I would have liked more cloud to add to the atmosphere but I will try and get back on a more suitable day.

My second objective for the day was to capture a dusk image of the bridge with plenty of colour in the sky, and this second image was pretty much what I had in mind.

Runcorn Bridge

The third and possibly most important objective for me a a keen birdwatcher was to try and capture the Starling roost or "Murmation" to give it its correct name. This in my opinion is one of the greatest wildlife spectacles you can witness. It really is amazing to watch the Murmation develop from a few single birds to a massive swarm of tens of thousands of birds all performing the most fantastic aerobatics as the settle upon their roost for the night.

The Starlings are practicing pure survival as they congregate in massive numbers to evade potential predators and share warmth for the cold winter nights.

Not easy images to capture but well worth the effort. The combination of very low light and amazingly fast moving birds present a tricky subject but if you do get the chance to visit a location were the Starlings are roosting it really is a sight not to be missed.

Here are a couple of images which show my interpretation of the spectacle. The first is a shot in which I tried to capture the speed and movement of the birds as they started to gather. The second Black and White image is the shot I wanted to capture for myself.

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I had the idea of showing the stunning natural shape of the Starling Flock against the fantastic man made structure of the bridge. This image I saw in Black and White.


I was pleased with the results from the day, and in particular I love the way the shape of the flock reflects the curve of the bridge in the final image.

Whilst capturing these images I also let the Nikon D3s run shooting video which looks superb. I will post the finished video file when I finish editing the footage.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Yorkshire Dales & Beyond

Yorkshire Moors

Just wanted to post a picture which I finished yesterday. Took the image late last year in the Yorkshire Dales.

I love the dramatic, moody lighting which for me captures the feeling of this bleak landscape in just the way I intended

I seem to have developed a theme of including birds in many of my B&W landscapes and my personal love of B&W landscapes seems to be growing ever stronger. Recent trips to the Cumbria side of Morecambe Bay have produced some really interesting images. All being well I should be getting round to post production on these in the next week or so.

As a strong contrast we have had some really nice sales from a series if images taken in Paris, way back in 2005. Here is one of my personal favourites from that particular set.


In contrast to the first image here for me the subject is the colour and texture of the wall and I just love the colour and tones in the wooden door. This has been a popular image for some time but has seen a big increase in print sales over the past month or so.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Nikon Capture NX2


Lightroom has been my Raw convertor of choice since it was first released and I have found on the whole to be happy with its workflow. However there has always been a part of me that just didn't really like the way it dealt with files and more importantly the way it dealt with Nikon raw files.

So I set myself a target of finding a new and better raw convertor, or should I say better for me. I downloaded trial versions of most of the top raw software packages including Aperture, Capture One and many more.

Well I am please to say that after much testing and changes to my entire workflow process I have made the move over to Nikon Capture NX.

It should have really come as no great surprise that Nikon software deals with Nikon files the best. I can say from my testing Capture NX brings things out of the Nikon files I had not even seen when using lightroom and some of the other software packages.

I am sure Lightroom will be a big part of my life for a long time to come, and if I was a Canon user then lightroom would still be my convertor of choice. Most of my training clients seem to shoot with Canon cameras so there will be a big need to keep my Lightroom skills up to speed.

I have gone back and re worked a few images and will possible look at doing more reworks over the coming weeks and months.

As part of the workflow review we have also made a few changes to our computer equipment and software packages.

My main image editing computer is now a 27" iMac Quad Core with 8GB of RAM. Our very old and long serving Mac Book Pro has been replaced with a superb new 15" i7 4GB new version.

In terms of software As mentioned Nikon Capture Nx2 is the main Raw convertor now supported by a new version of Photoshop CS5 which is proving to be a very worthy upgrade from my old CS3

The learning curve with the new software has been very easy to be honest, but a lot of time has been spent looking at better ways of backing up data and archiving our ever growing stock catalogue of images. The bank of 1TB hard drives is now six deep.

I will let you know how the new equipment and software performs in the long term, but for now its back to more post production.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Playing with Tilt and Shift Lenses

Winters Dawn

One of my favourite and most used lenses is the Nikkor 24mm F3.5 TSE. Whilst designed to enable perspective correction it also make a fantastic creative tool for some interesting photographic effects. These PC or Perspective Control lenses give a range of movements along the lines of those possible with many large format view cameras. This makes them invaluable for architectural and landscape photography

Over the past few months I have been using the lens to create some of my most popular art images. Here are a couple of examples of the things I have been doing with this amazing lens.

The technique is simple but it takes some practice to get the movement correct and in most cases a ND filter is required to get exposure times long enough to enable accurate and controlled movement. The choice of subject is also very important. Strong verticals play a big part in the success of these images.

In simple terms the lens axis is moved in a vertical or horizontal plane during the exposure.

Woodland Impression

Another really interesting effect which can be created using a tilt and shift lens is the impression of a miniature scene. The resulting image looks as if of a model. These images always remind me of my days helping my Dad build his model railway.

T&S Lens Tests

T&S Lens Tests

Not a lens I intend to purchase but very possibly a lens I will hire for shoots were its unique capabilities will enable image otherwise not possible.

T&S Lens Tests

In near future I hope to add the Nikkor 45mm F2.8 TSe lens to my camera bag. This lens will also give me a suitable focal length lens to apply the tilt shift facility to portrait images as well as landscapes. The portrait possibilities of the 45mm lens are really interesting me at the moment.

The next few images will give you some idea of the range of movements possible with these amazing lenses.

Whilst a dedicated user of the Nikon system one lens in the Canon range is of particular interest to me, and that is the 17mm TSe. I am at present looking at the possibility of using a canon/Nikon adapter which will give me access to the amazing creative and commercial possibilities of the fantastic lens.

Initial findings point to the Canon lens mount being much bigger than the Nikon mount so this may not be a possibility. There is however always the possibility of using a hire Canon body. It would hurt but in the interest of Art anything is possible.

More Canon 200-400mm F4 Lens Pictures

Following on from the great news that Canon will be releasing a 200-400mm F4.0 lens in the near future, here is a image comparing the new lens to the Canon 500mm F4. The new lens looks a beast. Really going to enjoy having a play with on of these.

The 200-400 is the bottom lens. In this image you can see the system which drops a 1.4x convertor onto the the optical system. This is a fantastic idea and will be a great tool for sports and wildlife photographers

Friday, 11 February 2011

Tripod Heads

Following on from my posting regarding tripods as promised here is my personal take on all things connected with tripod heads.

It amazes me just how many tripod heads are out there on the market today and they range from the superb to the well shall we say not very good at all. Like most professionals I have tried most over the years and after a lot of testing and much wasted money I have settled on a system that works well for me and my own photography.

So this is not going to be yet another review, that would be pointless, as there are so many reviews out there on the web. What I am going to give you is what I have found to be the best possible tripod heads regardless of price. Its then up to you to try them out and decide what is right for you.

Firstly there are a few different styles of head, you can have ball and sockets, geared, three way pan tilt to name just a few. Ball heads seem more popular in the United States whilst in the UK we seem to favour the three way pan tilt style of head. One is no better than the other its just personal choice.

My personal choice arrived at after trying all the styles is the Ball & Socket head. I find them easier and quicker to use and the just suit me better.

In the ball head market place there are some big names and some equally big price tags. You really do need to look at the offerings from Arca Swiss, Really Right Stuff, Acratec, Kirk and Gitzo, along with possibly Manfrotto but I must admit I have never found Manfrotto heads to be very good apart from the one mentioned below. In the main Manfrotto products seem very heavy and over engineered. I have tried many of their tripods and heads and had loads of problems, now I just don't go near them. But for some people they see to work really well.

For me there are two main choices, Acratech & Really Right Stuff. My tripod head of choice is the Acratech GV2.

I spend a lot of time working in mud, on beaches and pretty hostile places to camera gear, The open ball design of the Acratech won me over. There is just no place for dirt and grit to collect. These heads are also very light weight and combined with my Gitzo or Gittos tripods they are a fantastic and very portable combination. They are reliable and very simple to use.

The Acratec also functions as a small gimbal head which is great when working with long lenses. I use mine most days with my Nikkor 200-400 F4.0 and it is superb.

Take a look at the Acratec Website for some really detailed information

Now if I am honest and money was no object I would use the Really Right Suff Ball Head, however these are not sold in the Uk and I could not justify the import cost. If they had a UK supplier I would say the RRS would be my number one choice. I have never used a RRS head but the design just looks to be right. Maybe one day I will get to America and try one for myself.

The Really Right Stuff web site contains a vast amount of information covering just about everything you need to know about tripods and heads.

I use two other heads myself. One is a geared Manfrotto model number 410

I find this head superb when I need maximum control, when using 5x4 cameras or medium format digital. Not a head I use often but when needed fits the bill very well.

My final head is the Gittos MH5001

I own two of these but they are for use by training delegates who have yet to discover the advantages of tripods. I never use a three way head myself, but the Gittos is very good indeed and retails for a very sensible price, making it a good first tripod head. Easily able to support a DSLR camera and lenses up to 100-400mm.

This covers the main heads I use on a daily basis. All that remains now is to look at how we connect the camera to the head. This is vital to the sturdiness of the entire setup, and for me there is only one way to do this and as with most things photographic its not the cheapest option.

I use the Arca-Swiss dovetail plates made for specific cameras. These are from two main suppliers Kirk and Really Right Stuff. You simply purchase a plate which is shaped to the dase of your camera. This is 100% reliable and avoids twist, which is a common problem with other systems. Acratech also make a good range of camera specific plates but as yet I have not used one. Being an Acratech product I would have no hesitation in doing so.

As you can see the plates are designed so you simply move the camera to a vertical or horizontal position, lock the clamp and away you go. My plates have all come from who stock a range suitable for most cameras including some of the better compacts. Another big advantage of these plates is the way they keep the weight of the camera directly over the tripod centre axis, this again helps the stability of the setup.

You can also obtain camera specific plates that don't offer the 90 degree angle capability. These are cheaper and are a good alternative to the more bulky "L Plates" as they are called.

The kirk plates I use have never caused me a problem, and I have one available for each camera body I own. Its a system you need to check out for yourself but in most cases I think you will be impressed.

I also use the same type of plate on my 70-200mm F2.8 Nikkor. In this case I use a Wimberly lens plate and I also use Wimberly replacement lens feet on on my 200-400mm and 600mm Nikkor Lenses. In the latter case the Nikon supplied lens foot is removed and replaced with a low profile lens plate which has a built in Arca style dovetail.

As well as being rock solid these plates mean ever single item of equipment has its own specific anti twist connection to the tripod. The system is fantastic and when my training clients see and try out the system they simply fall in love with the reliability, simplicity and ease of use. The entire package just liberates your tripod user experience and many of the issues around tripod based photography vanish in the swipe of your credit card

I also use a generic Wimberly plate which fits any camera, it does not offer the 90 degree angle but the fact that it is very small and fits any camera is makes it a great tool on training courses, were I come across the odd Canon or Sony body!!

This generic plate is a great product and please don't confuse it with the cheap plates supplied with many standard tripod heads.

Last and by no means least we need to look at how to support the big long lenses, the 500mm and 600mm monsters used for wildlife and bird photography. Here for me the choice is very easy.

The Wimberly Head makes a 600mm Nikkor weightless and so easy to use. Again its expensive at over £500 but the design and construction is superb. In all honesty if your going to £9,000 for a lens then the cost of the Wimberly head is a small price to pay in order to get the most from your investment.

Again the Wimberly website will give you all the information you need.

Just to finish off the complete system I have adapted a simple Manfrotto head to work with Arca Style Plates.

This very easy conversion took a few seconds to do and means that I can simply mount all my camera bodies and lenses directly onto my Gitzo monopod. The entire systen is seamless. Its also worth noting these tripod head plates can be retro fitted to many other non Arca Style heads. This can be a good way to save some money or use a particular head your find works well for you

So thats it, these are the product I use and can say with 100% confidence after much research they are the best on the market for my personal photography. There are many other products on the market for example Gitzo make some great heads, but I have never found them to be as good as the Acratech. Kirk and Arca-Swiss make superb ball heads but I have had many problems with them locking up and they are very heavy compared to the Acratech. Try them all and make your own choice.

If you do decide to take my advice and look at any of these products I would advise you pay a visit to one of the best suppliers I have ever come across Bob Rigby they keep a great range in stock and will offer you good honest advise.

Another great supplier I would advise you consider is Warehouse Express they stock both the Gitzo and Gittos range as well as Kirk products and have been one of my regular suppliers for over 12 years now, suberb service and good prices. As always if your in the North West my local supplier Wilkinson Cameras will be able to help as they stock both the Gitzo and Gittos range.

Hope this helps and if you have any questions I will be more than happy to at least try and answer them.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Latest Images

I made the short trip up the M6 on Tuesday to Morecambe. I grew up in the small Lancashire town, its a place that often gets very negative press, in no small part it fell victim to some very poor TV comedians many years ago and the bad name has stayed with the seaside resort.

For me Morecambe has many things to offer not least its stunning Landscape. In my very early days of photography, I would spend countless hours trying to capture the magic of the bay. I have seen it in many moods, from calm and tranquil to very angry and powerful.

My first stop on the trip was to Sunderland Point. The point gets cut off twice every day by the fast rising tides of Morecambe Bay and consists of a few small houses a small number of fishing boats and very little else. However what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in beauty.


Not wanting to cut off by the tide, my time on Sunderland Point was restricted and whilst there the light was not at its best, so a few return trips will be needed to get the image I have in mind. I set off with the intention of capturing black and white images but I only shot colour on this trip.

Next I made the short drive to Morecambe itself and found a spot on the Bay that looked promising. Then knowing Morecambe Bay pretty well, it was a case of playing with viewpoints and waiting for the magical light, so often found in Morecambe to develop.

Nikkor 24-70mm F2.8 Lee Big Stopper

I was really pleased with the Images from the bay and I had the visual treat of one of Morecambe's famous sunsets.


Both images 24-70mm F2.8 Lee 0.9ND Grad

The lighting in all these images is totally natural very little post production was done on them. In the few hours I was on the beach the light changed from the most amazing blue and purple to a subtle pinky orange glow as the sun went down.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Canon's new 200-400mm F4 LIS Lens

Its not very often I post about Canon equipment on the blog, but most of my training clients use Canon gear and I know for a long time the Canon users have been desperate for a lens in the 200-400mm range.

Well the wait is nearly over. Yesterday Canon released the new 200-400mm F4.0 and as an added bonus the new lens features the addition of a 1.4x converter, which is activated by a small switch on the top of the lens barrel.

All in all it looks a fantastic lens and fills a massive gap in the Canon range. I know a number of wildlife photographers changed to Nikon simply because of the 200-400mm Lens.

I predict this will be a very popular lens and a great investment for the Canon shooter. Also released yesterday was information on upgrades to the 500mm and 600mm lenses which was expected after the design changes made to the 300 and 400mm lenses last year.

Looks like the constant leap frog tactics of Nikon and Canon is hotting up. There will In my opinion be a new pro Nikon body this year to replace the D3s and I think some new nikon lenses are on the horizon very soon. I just hope we see a Nikkor 17mm Tilt and shift!!

I guess you canin shooters need to start saving!!!