colourful stuff

Blue gate with pink flowers

An awful lot of my photography over the last year or two has ended up being black and white.  I never set out to do this – it just sort of happened, largely due to there not being much colour around a lot of the time.  Vivid colour really used to be my thing, and I seem to have become a bit set in my ways with the black and white and find it quite difficult to produce colourful images these days – I’m so tuned into black and white tones that I’m not really seeing the colour any more.  This is something I’m going to work on, and in the meantime I’ve been doing quite a bit of thinking and reading about colour and its uses.  I thought I’d share some of the more interesting stuff with you.

Even as a little girl, I understood that one person’s perception of a colour might not be another’s.  There’s good reason why I ended up studying philosophy, and you could easily have spotted the nascent philosopher in me at a very young age, when I went around wondering if the red I saw was the same as the red someone else saw.  This surely isn’t normal for an eight-year-old, and obviously I had no idea how to actually answer that question.  Recently I came across this article on colour dictionaries.  It doesn’t entirely solve this particular problem, because there’s still no way of knowing if the colour you see in the dictionary looks the same as the one I see, but it does provide a means for figuring out if the thing you saw was the same colour as the thing I saw (even if we saw the colour differently – I hope you’re following).  For example, colour dictionaries were used for bird identification and even to catalogue things like chrysanthemums. The modern version of the colour dictionary is Pantone’s colour chart, which is used by graphic designers, the fashion industry, interior designers, and anyone who is anyone in the creative world.  And if you’re interested, Pantone’s Color of the Year for 2017 is Greenery, a rather pleasant mid-green – according to Pantone it’s a ‘life-affirming shade……emblematic of the pursuit of personal passions and vitality’.  Well, there you go.

Orange roses, macro

I love to use a lot of colour in my home, and our walls are painted various shades of terracotta, aqua blue, coral, green (a bit brighter than the Pantone colour above) and scarlet.  When we moved into this house, what is now our snug was painted a kind of dull mushroom brown.  The room gets very little natural light due to an extension on the back of it and I found it really quite depressing to be in.  I pondered over what to do with it – it was never going to be a light and bright room whatever colour it was painted, so I reckoned we should work with it and do what we could to make it feel warm and cosy.  I’d seen a colour I loved but didn’t know where I could use it.  It was a warm, deep coral and I had a little tester pot to hand.  One day I couldn’t stand it any more and I whipped it out and painted the chimney breast.  I loved it.  In the end we decided to go all out and painted all four walls this colour.  You can see the result below.  Everyone says they really like it, although there’s always a second or two of shock when they walk in.

The snug

And if you think this is a bit tame and you’d prefer a tad more colour in a house, try this one.  I think that’s more than I could live with myself, but I love its happy, cheerful spirit.

Adult colouring books are the thing at the moment, but the MapYourProgress site has a whole new take on them.  They supply Creative Progress Maps – each black and white picture is made up of ‘swirls’ that represent steps towards your goal, and you colour in each swirl as you achieve that step.  You might use them to record your progress in paying off a debt, losing weight, moving closer to an important date, or anything that’s measurable in small increments. This really appeals to the child in me, although most of the things I want to achieve don’t lend themselves to such uniform incremental steps, but I guess I could allow myself the pleasure of colouring in a few swirls every time I take a step forward.

The film director Derek Jarman once wrote a book called Chroma which is, as you might guess, about colour.  It’s a strange book because it mostly consists of him free-associating around one colour at a time, with scraps of proverb, myth, legend, facts, and autobiography thrown in.  I didn’t think I’d finish it, because there’s no real story, no plot, no feeling of getting anywhere, but it’s strangely compelling to read.  It’s made all the more moving by the fact of Jarman’s growing blindness as he wrote it.  Jarman is famous for his film Blue, which showed only a single shot of a vivid blue colour, accompanied by a soundtrack describing his life and vision.  He was already partially blind when he made it.

Something I’d never thought about much is the role that colour plays in writing.  It’s true that I’d always liked Tennyson because he uses colour so much and so well in his poetry – he paints a scene with so much sensual detail that you feel as if you’re there and can forgive him for his rather Victorian sentiment – but I hadn’t considered using colour in a more metaphorical way when it comes to writing.  Then I came across this blog post from Cigdem Kobu where she interviews Monika Cleo Sakki, who has this to say:

‘Another way to “write with color,” is to be guided by the energy of a color. To embody it in the way you write, the style you go about it, and the atmosphere you create.

Let’s say you want to write with a fiery Red: Write fast. Seek action. Introduce a major event upfront. Use short sentences and to the point. Tempo. Momentum. State bold opinions. Strike taboo subjects and daring concepts. Include blood, speed, sweat, or tears.

And of course, color can be a source of inspiration. What stories come to your mind when you think of Blue? Or Brown? As themes?’

And also:

‘One of the most important things when it comes to design is to choose your palette. A limited palette, that is. Of course you can decide to go rainbowy and all, but then you dilute the power of each color, and the bounty of colors becomes your one color, one message, one mood.

So, when you start to write, ask yourself, “What is the leading color of this scene/feeling/memory and so on”? Your answer will intensify how you see scene/feeling/memory and how you make it come alive, even without using one word that describes a color… It’s like your secret weapon!’

Sunset, with tree branches

And finally, I’ve got some photographers for you who really know how to rock it in terms of colour.  The first is Floto+Warner, who produced their incredible Splash of Colour series.  They froze the action of colourful paint as it was thrown/projected into the air, and refer to the results as ‘floating sculptural events’.  Quite spectacular.

The second  photographer is Ursula Abrecht, whose work I came across and immediately loved some time ago.  Her images are highly abstract landscapes dissolving into soft swathes and swirls of gorgeous, luscious colour.  Lately she’s applied the same techniques to shots of modern architecture, with interesting results, and some of her flower images are exquisite, but my real love is for her colourful landscapes.  I hadn’t realised till I went and had another look at her site that you can buy prints of her images for very reasonable prices – eg, an A4 print for £11.  All I have to do now is decide which one……….

‘Colour is joy.’     Ernst Haas








52 trees – week fifty-two

Autumn colours, impression, ICM

Yay! – the last one!  It certainly won’t be the last tree picture you’ll see here, as I’ve got several in the pipeline already, but this week marks the end of the 52 Trees project.  I was so hoping to be able to come up with something a little different for the last one, but I thought for a while that it just wasn’t going to happen.  However, I’ve just spent a few days in Surrey visiting Geoff, as he now works down there, and we went to Winkworth Arboretum for the day.

I was in paradise.  The colours were sensational and it was like being a child in a sweet shop.  I’d had a bad night’s sleep and I was very tired and a bit cranky, but I was so overwhelmed with delight at this beautiful place that I forgot everything else.  It’s difficult for me to play and experiment when I’m with someone else – I can’t switch off enough – but I had taken my ten-stop neutral density filter with the idea of trying out some intentional camera movement and I have Geoff to thank for insisting that I at least gave it a go.

I only took a few shots with it – although it wasn’t sunny, it was still quite bright and I needed to cut out so much light to get a slow shutter speed that I couldn’t actually see what I was taking through the viewfinder.  I tried a few shots and then got a bit cross with it all (you don’t want to be around me when I haven’t slept, believe me) and decided just to go with  straight shots for the rest of the time we were there.

I almost deleted this one when I saw it on the back of the camera, but then I had a better look at it onscreen and it suddenly seemed to have potential.  There was some blown out sky that detracted a bit so I played with some cropping and came up with this version, which I’m rather pleased with.  Seeing it bigger revealed the lovely soft purples and blues in the shadows, which contrast so well with the unbelievably vivid yellows and reds of the leaves.  I think it captures the feeling of an autumn day, and the glorious colours that we’ve seen this year.  Most of all, it’s very ‘me’ and I’m more than happy to finish with this.

I’ve no idea where I’m going from here.  I might start another 52 project, but I have some reservations. It’s relatively easy to keep up and it ensures I write a weekly blog post, but at times it’s felt restrictive and sometimes even a little tedious.  I’ve posted the occasional image that I’ve thought was just OK, because I needed something and it was all I had, and I don’t like doing that.  I’m playing with ideas at the moment, and I think I’ll just coast for a little and trust that the right thing will make itself known to me if I let things simmer.  And if you’ve stuck with me all the way through, thank you! – it’s encouragement from you that has kept me going.







52 trees – week forty-nine

Yellow leaves, blue sky

Autumn’s last dance – a brilliant autumn day with a cool breeze that rustled the last of the yellow leaves on this tree.  How wonderful that autumn goes out in such a fanfare, giving us these gorgeous colours before the dull greys of winter set in.  I’m on the last few weeks of my 52 Trees now and I’m aiming to end on a surge of colour and light.

It’s gone rather quiet on here, lately  (is there anybody there??)  I often notice that when I feel a little bit removed from my blog and uncertain of how to go forwards, I also lose readers and the comments dry up.  I guess people can sense my hesitancy and occasional reluctance to write anything.  I’m debating whether or not to start a new weekly project – in some ways it’s been really motivating and has helped to keep me going, but at times it’s felt a bit constraining.  I also think I might have written more blog posts on other topics if I wasn’t doing this.  I’ve got a little lazy, perhaps, and on many weeks have settled for just the tree post.

I’d like to change the WordPress theme again, too.  I’ve never been terribly happy with this one and I know it has a number of glitches that I just haven’t been able to sort out.  It’s a free theme, and I’d much rather pay for one and get something better.  At the same time, I rather dread trawling through all the themes, getting more and more frustrated as I try to find one that does what I want it to do.  An ability to do CSS coding would help a lot, but it’s just one more learning curve for which I feel no enthusiasm.

Life itself is changing rapidly at the moment – I’m going out more, meeting new people, trying new things, making new friends, and finding new opportunities.  I’m not sure where it’s all going right now, but I feel as if I’m on the move again and it’s a good feeling.  With our life and finances finally having gained some stability, I feel free to explore in a way that I haven’t for years.  My blog needs to change to match this, but how?  Not sure, but I’ll sit with the uncertainty and sooner or later it will become clear.








52 trees – week forty

New Forest, intentional camera movement

I’ve just upgraded to Photoshop Elements 14, and at the same time have installed a suite of plug-ins called Nik Efex I’ve wanted these for quite a while, but till fairly recently you had to buy the whole suite of seven plug-ins even if you only wanted one of them, and the price wasn’t low.  However, Google are now offering the whole Nik Efex suite completely free, so I jumped at the chance to get it.

Some of the plug-ins cover specific things like sharpening or HDR, but the two that interest me most are Silver Efex Pro and Color Efex Pro – the first does black and white conversions, and the second enables you to play with various different effects on your colour images.  The choice is quite bewildering – almost off-putting – but there are loads that I’d be unlikely to use and you can narrow down the choices and place the ones you like in a Favorites folder so that you don’t have to trawl through the entire list every time to find the ones you want.

Around the same time that I downloaded these, I subscribed to KelbyOne, Scott Kelby’s training site for photography and software.  There was a series of lessons on how to use Nik Efex that proved worth the subscription money all by itself and helped me a lot in learning how best to use the plug-ins.  What I discovered is that you can remove the effect from parts of the images, intensify or reduce the effect, stack several different effects together, and generally fully customise how they’re applied.

Something in me objects to the idea of simply clicking on a thumbnail and having a ready-made effect applied – it feels like cheating, somehow, and too ‘Instagram’ in style – so gaining back this kind of control makes me feel that the final result is of my own making rather than something someone else has come up with.  I can see there’s huge potential here to achieve the kind of results I’ve always wanted, but I can also see it’s going to take some time to familiarise myself with the software.

The image above is one of my New Forest, intentional camera movement shots, and I’ve applied two effects to it.  One is Neutral Color Balance, which shifted the colour balance in a slightly brighter, fresher, direction, and the other is Color Contrast, which helped intensify and bring out the individual colours, particularly the pink in the foreground.  Although I liked this overall, I took the effect off the more dominant tree trunks to bring the contrast down a bit there.  The change is quite subtle, but definite – underneath I’ve shown the before (top) and after (bottom).  You can see how the software has ‘cleaned up’ the colours quite nicely, giving the image a fresher and more summery look.

You can make much more dramatic conversions than this, and I’m playing with that at the moment, but there’s a danger of it becoming clumsy and too over-the-top, so I’m taking it slowly.  It’s nothing that couldn’t be done in Photoshop, of course, but first off you’d have to know how to achieve what you want – which I often don’t – and even if you do this is a much easier way of achieving it.

Color Efex comparison diptych









Adventures with intentional camera movement

Blue gate, flowers, intentional camera movement

I’ve been playing this week, which is something I don’t do nearly often enough.  I’ve tried taking photos using intentional camera movement before, but always as a bit of an afterthought.  They’re not easy to do well, but I got one or two that I liked one day, by chance, and that gave me the idea to try this technique in a more deliberate way.  This is the image that started the whole thing:

Flowers, Newark Cemetery, with intentional camera movement

The flower beds at the entrance to Newark Cemetery are a riot of colour, but too regimented to be interesting to me in their natural state.  I moved the camera horizontally for this shot, and it worked pretty well.  When I converted the RAW file, I remembered that I could move the Clarity slider in the opposite direction to normal, to smooth and blend the colours, and this turned out to be surprisingly effective.

Using the same technique transformed this image into an abstract blaze of summer colour:

Summer colours, intentional camera movement

Today I took a walk round the garden to see what else I could come up with.  The two previous images were created just by using a small aperture/slow shutter speed, but this time I armed myself with a Polaroid filter, which cuts down quite a bit of light (therefore giving a slower shutter speed), and intensifies colours.  Although not a sunny day, the light proved too bright for even this to give me long enough shutter speeds so I dug out something I’ve had for ages but never really used – a ten-stop filter.  It’s quite nifty – it screws onto the end of the lens and you can then twist it to increase or decrease the light coming in.

The results were pretty mixed and I deleted lots of the resulting pics.  It’s not easy to get this right and it takes quite a bit of experimentation to find just the right shutter speed and movement to give a good result.  I’ll put some of the more successful images at the end, but before I do that let me pass on what I learned:

Movement: generally speaking it’s best to move the camera in the direction of the dominant lines in the image.  Eg, trees usually look best when you move the camera vertically up or down, and sea or open country if you move horizontally.  However, I found that the flowers in close up demanded something different.  Straight lines didn’t work very well, even diagonal ones, so I tried moving in circles – you can see the effect in one of the images underneath.  This was better but still not quite what I wanted.  In the end I found that jiggling the camera had the best effect – imagine you’re freezing cold and shaking and shivering and that’s the movement you make.

Shutter speed: it’s impossible to give hard and fast rules on this because it will vary so much depending on the lighting, but most things seemed to come out best at around 1.5 seconds.  If your shutter speed is longer and you move more, you risk losing all shape and form and ending up with pure colour – it can be nice, but I wanted a little more definition.  If your shutter speed is too fast, there isn’t enough time to make sufficient movement.  The best combination was a longish shutter speed (approx 1.5 secs) combined with quite slow but definite movements.  Moving slowly worked much better than moving fast.

Aperture/ISO: obviously the aperture needs to be small to increase the shutter speed.  Most of the time I found f22-f29 about right and because this gives you considerable depth of field, it allows for some definition in the image, too.  ISO was kept as low as possible – ie, ISO 100 – again, to reduce shutter speed.

Filters: to get the shutter speed slow enough, I first tried a Polaroid filter – which reduces the light by two stops – and then a 10-stop filter.  The 10-stop filter was much better for this as I could simply twist it to increase/decrease the effect and watch the shutter speed change till it hit the right number.

Composition: this was quite difficult – probably the most difficult part of the whole thing.  I cropped most of these images into squares because at full size they included areas that spoiled the overall effect.  To get enough movement blur, you need to move beyond the edge of your normal framing and that means you tend to end up with bits you don’t want.

Colour: these images are all about colour – none of them would work at all if you took the colour away.  That’s not surprising, really, as colour is always what interests me most.  However, I think you could work this technique by concentrating on texture rather than colour if you wanted to go down that route.

Post-processing: I didn’t do much post-processing – the thing I did most of was cropping, and cloning out sensor dirt (but you shouldn’t have to do that if you keep a clean sensor).  The one thing that made a huge difference was the Clarity slider in Elements’ Raw Converter – moving this the ‘wrong’ way (ie, to make it less sharp) improved more than a few of these, and saved one which I would have otherwise discarded.  The colours are as they came out of the camera – I haven’t enhanced them in any way.

Success rate: abysmal – be prepared to delete most of what you take!  But it’s a lot of fun to do something with an element of uncertainty and serendipity.

And lastly: when you’re shooting with a tiny aperture it really shows up any dirt on your sensor.  Because I normally shoot with quite large apertures (which hide sensor dirt) I didn’t realise I had several huge lumps of the stuff stuck to my sensor and I had to spend ages cloning them out.  Probably a good idea to clean the sensor before you start.

I had a lot of fun with these, even when restricted to my own back yard.  I’d like to find some more open, panoramic shots to try and also some urban street shots with people in them.  I’m thinking I might make a little project of it.  I’d also like to do a series spread over a year, where I concentrate on showing the changing colours of the seasons in abstract form.  It’s wakened me up a bit to try something different – feels like it’s been a while since I stepped out of my comfort zone.

Summer colour, intentional camera movementThis one didn’t work at all until I used the Clarity slider on the Raw file to soften it, as it looked rather harsh initially.  I think it just about succeeds now, and I like the vibrant colours and the touch of red.  The movement here was vertical, which I found didn’t work so well for flowers.

Blue gate with intentional camera movement

Blue gate, intentional camera movementThese two, plus the one at the top of the post are the most successful of anything I tried.  The colours work well together – the blue gate, red/orange brick, magenta flowers and white stems add up to a very satisfying colour blend.  I tried moving the camera in a variety of different directions, and found that either an up and down movement, or a kind of jiggle, were most successful.

Summer colours, intentional camera movementI don’t feel this one quite makes the grade – the large pink geraniums dominate a bit too much.

SONY DSCI like the way the leaves have come out on this, but the composition could be better.

Pots of ivy, intentional camera movementI really can’t make my mind up about this one.  I look at it one minute and think it works, and then I look again and think it doesn’t!  It looks like a double exposure but there are actually two pots of ivy.

Summer flowers, intentional camera movementI moved the camera in a circle for this one – no other kind of motion seemed to work very well.  I do like the way that the small white flowers are still quite distinct, and I think the colours are great.

Flowers, intentional camera movement, blending modeFinally, this is the same picture as above but with a duplicate layer added and Linear Burn blending mode applied, giving an altogether different effect.

Photoquotes – Colour versus black and white

London alley at night

In this occasional series I’ll look at a selection of well-known photographers’ views on a particular aspect of photography, through the medium of quotes.

There’s a certain snobbery around when it comes to black and white photography versus colour photography.  Although colour photography has been around in a useable form since the early 1900s, it was technically challenging and expensive and didn’t achieve widespread use till the 1950s onwards.  Most professional photographers continued to use black and white for quite some time after this – some still do – and it may be the association of black and white with professionalism, as opposed to the amateurish colour shots taken by the masses, that has left its imprint.  On top of this, colour photography was enthusiastically adopted by the advertising industry quite early on, and it therefore became associated with banality and commerce.  I don’t suppose it helped.

‘Color is vulgar’, said Walker Evans, who then went on to add ‘beauty is unimportant and nature is trivial’. Somehow I don’t think we’d get on……  It’s hard to understand why some people are so anti-colour. Evans really is the most vehement of them all – here are a couple more quotes from him:

‘Many photographers are apt to confuse color with noise, and to congratulate themselves when they have almost blown you down with screeching hues alone—a bebop of electric blues, furious reds, and poison greens.’

‘Color tends to corrupt photography and absolute color corrupts it absolutely. Consider the way color film usually renders blue sky, green foliage, lipstick red, and the kiddies’ playsuit. These are four simple words which must be whispered: color photography is vulgar.’

This really is a man who likes his world black and white, or more accurately, grey – ‘I happen to be a gray man……..Gray is truer’.  His attitude towards colour did mellow very slightly in the mid-70s, but he never really came round to it.

Roland Barthes, one of the high priests of post-modernism, didn’t like colour much either.  In his seminal work, Camera Lucida, he announced:

‘For me, color is an artifice, a cosmetic (like the kind used to paint corpses).’

Corpses??  In Barthes’ view, black and white was ‘truth’ and he regarded colour as a kind of overlay that obscured reality/truth, an attitude that’s surprisingly widespread.

Colour is often referred to by those who eschew it as a ‘distraction’ (which it certainly can be if you want the emphasis elsewhere), but Sarah Moon goes one step further:

‘I believe that the essence of photography is black and white. Color is but a deviance.’

Phillip Jones Griffiths isn’t too keen either, but more because he thinks colour creates problems:

‘Once the camera is loaded with colour film, the problems begin.’

Personally I think this is one reason so many photographers prefer black and white – it removes one big variable (the handling of colour) from all the things that have to be considered when composing a shot. There’s a certain skill involved in visualising the final image as it will look in black and white – translating from the language of colour, if you will – but once you have that skill then black and white is very forgiving. When you post-process it you can push the contrast way beyond anything you can do with colour, giving dramatic results quite easily. And if you have someone in the background wearing a red coat, that isn’t the problem it would be if the image were in colour. This isn’t intended to put the black and white enthusiasts down – it’s a very real talent to be able to see well in black and white and not everyone can do it.

And it’s also true that it’s not easy to use colour well:

‘The difficulty with color is to go beyond the fact that it’s color—to have it be not just a colorful picture but really be a picture about something. It’s difficult. So often color gets caught up in color, and it becomes merely decorative. Some photographers use [it] brilliantly to make visual statements combining color and content; otherwise it is empty.’  Mary Ellen Mark

Moving on, William Eggleston, one of the early adopters of colour among professional photographers, is typically laid-back and laconic about the whole issue:

‘The way I have always looked at it is the world is in color. And there’s nothing we can do about that.’

Eggleston was happy to use colour and he used it very effectively.  Among his contemporaries was Saul Leiter, a street photographer accomplished in both black and white and colour, who said:

‘I’m mystified that anyone thinks liking color is a bad thing.’

Ernst Haas, another contemporary and early adopter of colour photography, simply says:

‘Color is joy.’

Haas loved colour – he felt that after what he called the grey years of the second world war, colour was a celebration and symbolised life and hope for the future.

There’s a noticeable difference in attitude between the black and white and the colour enthusiasts. The black and whiters often get very worked up about the whole thing and sometimes have a bit of a tendency to rant – the colour lovers mostly express slight bewilderment about the whole issue and just get on with it.

‘I still don’t understand all these problematic discussions about color versus black and white. I love both, but they do speak a different language within the same frame…………….There are black and white snobs as well as color snobs. Because of their inability to use both well they act on the defensive and create camps.’
Ernst Haas

Haas is right, of course – there’s no reason why we should ever need to argue the merits of one over the other. They’re different, in the same way that a charcoal drawing is different from a painting, but no better or worse for it. Some photographers were meant for black and white – if you’ve ever seen any of Ansel Adams’ colour photos then you’ll know that, while they’re extremely accomplished, they lack something that his black and white photography embodies.  In 1967, he wrote:

I can get—for me—a far greater sense of ‘color’ through a well-planned and executed black-and-white image than I have ever achieved with color photography.’
It’s an interesting thought.
Some photographers do both very well, such as Haas, and Leiter. And for some, like Pete Turner, nothing but colour will do. (And boy, does Turner use strong colour – Walker Evans would be turning in his grave faster than a chicken on a spit. This pdf download contains a selection of Turner’s images and a fascinating article about his work.)
For me, colour has always been my first love and my inspiration, but I’ve never really understood why there has to be a contest between it and black and white.  Sometimes I shoot in black and white and it makes a refreshing change, and sometimes a subject simply lends itself to black and white.  But if I had to make a choice?………momma, don’t take my Kodachrome away!

Kodachrome, it gives those nice bright colors
Gives us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day, oh yeah!
I got a Nikon camera, I love to take a photograph
So momma, don’t take my Kodachrome away
Paul Simon, Kodachrome

Barcode contrast

Yellow bicycle hunt

Yellow flowers

I’m back, after a much longer absence than I ever planned. In fact, I didn’t plan to be absent at all, or at least not for more than a week or two, but I got distracted by our house move and perhaps because of that lost all interest in photography for a while.  It’s happened to me before but never for so long, and this time I seriously wondered if I’d ever pick up a camera again.  Slowly, slowly, my motivation has crept back and now I feel ready to move forward again.

When you’ve been out of the loop for a while it takes time to get your hand in again, so today’s offering isn’t the most exciting set of photos I’ve ever posted, but they are a reminder of a lovely day.  I’ve made quite a few friends online, but have only met a small number of them, so it’s always a special day when I get to come face to face with someone I’ve ‘known’ for a while but have never met in person.  Last week I went to York for the day to meet up with Dave – who is just as lovely a person in reality as he’s always seemed online – and we had an enjoyable walk along York’s beautiful River Ouse, some great conversation, a satisfyingly large lunch, and then we finished up with a yellow bicycle hunt.

As we wandered round York, I’d noticed a yellow painted bicycle hanging on the city wall.  I’m afraid I’m utterly and shamefully ignorant when it comes to sporting events, so it took Dave to inform me that York had been part of the Tour de France route and that all the yellow bicycles liberally sprinkled round the city were there to mark the occasion.  Of course, you have to photograph something like that, and the yellow bicycles became the photographic theme for the day.  Neither of us was familiar with the city, so our walking route became dictated by any sighting of a yellow bicycle – ‘Look! -there’s one there! – OK, let’s go that way then.’  And so we walked, doubling back on ourselves, going round in circles, but always following the yellow bicycles.  That kept us happy for quite a while, and here are the results.

Note: the only lens I had with me was my Lensbaby, so these have all been taken with that.  It’s actually quite a good choice for this, as it helps focus attention on the bicycles and softens and blurs the surrounding environment.  It’s been a long time since I took the Lensbaby out for a walk so some of my focussing isn’t quite where I wish it had been.  It’s also a shame the light was so flat that day – although it was exceedingly warm, it was one of those overcast days with a lot of cloud so I feel the results also look a little flat.  Everything emerged from the camera with rather a cold blue cast to it, so I’ve had to warm it all up a little.


Yellow bicycle, York

Yellow bicycle, York

Yellow bicycle, York

Yellow bicycle, York

Yellow bicycle, York

Yellow bicycles, York

Yellow bicycle, York

Yellow bicycle, York

Yellow bicycle, York

Yellow bicycle, York



Lincoln Cathedral

Stained glass, Lincoln Cathedral

I’ve just had a visit from Eileen, and I’ve decided I’d like to keep her in a cupboard and bring her out every time I need inspiration or a dose of the Muse.  I’m never sure how it happens, but every time I meet up with her I get better photographs than I get most of the rest of the time.  I wasn’t even going to take my camera out with me this time – at that point I didn’t have my newly fixed computer back, and the lack of ability to process in RAW was leaving me feeling a bit apathetic about photography in general.  ‘Take it!’, Geoff said, ‘it’s Eileen – you know you’ll want to take pictures if you’re with her’.  And he was right.

We went on a visit to Lincoln, which has to have one of the most gorgeous old town areas of any mediaeval city in the UK.  We had plans – we intended to see an exhibition called Colour Love, on at the Usher Gallery.  But before that, we thought a visit to the Cathedral wouldn’t go wrong, and it certainly didn’t, but we were a lot longer than we thought we’d be and by the time we’d thoroughly photographed the Cathedral and had some lunch, it was 4.00pm – which turned out to be the time that the gallery closed.  (On a Saturday! – that’s the Midlands for you.  If you live in London or the South-East, you get used to things being open most of the time.)  So we missed the exhibition, but we did have a very good time anyway.

It was a very bright, sunny day and the light in the Cathedral was wonderful, with vividly coloured splashes of it filtering through the stained glass windows.  I’ve got loads of shots I’m very happy with, and haven’t finished processing all of them yet.  I wanted to share these with you for the moment, and I’ll follow up with the rest in due course.

Something interesting happened while I was processing – the first image below seemed to call out for the pillars to be left in bright coloured light, with a very dark/black background that would eliminate most of the background detail and throw the attention onto the columns themselves.  I tried various ways to do this in Elements, but in the end I added a solid colour Layer of black and then used the Soft Light blending mode to blend it with the original.  That gave me the effect I wanted, and then I wondered how that would look if I did the same thing to the rest.  Surprisingly, it worked very well on almost everything, and it gave me the feeling I wanted, which is of vivid light and colour in a very dark space.  I wanted to recreate the dim, soothing, womb-like feeling of old churches and cathedrals with the contrast of the astonishingly bright light streaming through the coloured windows.  I’m sure there are other, possibly better, ways of doing this, but I’m pretty pleased with the results.

Columns, Lincoln Cathedral

Arch, Lincoln Cathedral

Columns 2, Lincoln Cathedral

Flagstones, Lincoln Cathedral

Face, Lincoln Cathedral

Duncan Grant, mural detail, LIncoln Cathedral

Carpet, Lincoln Cathedral

Dappled, Lincoln Cathedral

Wooden cross, Lincoln Cathedral

Flagstones 2, Lincoln Cathedral

Icon, Lincoln Cathedral

Cloister windows, Lincoln Cathedral



Oil spill landscapes

Oil 1

A while back, while feeling rather bored and uninspired photographically, I came across some spilled oil in the ditches on the estuary. The colours and shapes were lovely, and I could see how I could turn them into abstract images that might suggest dreamlike or fantasy landscapes.  Initially I thought this was a one-off in terms of the oil spills, but every time I’ve been down that way since then there has always been oil mixed into the ditchwater.  I don’t know where it comes from, and it’s a little worrying environmentally, but it’s got great potential photographically.  It’s taken a while for me to go back with a camera, but I finally got round to it the other day.

I showed the original set of images at a student/tutor critique that took place on a study weekend, and the tutor in question liked them but was disappointed when I said they’d been heavily processed.  When I asked why, he said he felt the world had enough beauty in it without having to artificially enhance it and suggested that I take more photos but not process them so much.  Well, I could see where he was coming from and I tried it with this latest batch, but I didn’t feel it worked nearly so well.

This is the straight-out-of-the-camera image, looking very flat and rather dull:

Original 108

My typical normal workflow would be curves, possibly a little bit of cloning, some burning and dodging if required,  and finally sharpening.  I didn’t sharpen any of these, because it made the small irregularities much too obvious and I wanted a softer effect.  I did a tiny bit of cloning on some if there was an intruding piece of grass, for example, and a few of them looked better for some dodging and burning.  That leaves curves, and the following shows the same image after using a SmartCurve plugin:

Original 108 SmartCurve

It’s a lot better, but it doesn’t have the look and feel that I wanted – I find it too harsh. What I wanted to do was add some luminescence and strengthen the colours, while softening any gritty textures in it.  If I remember rightly, I made a duplicate layer, blurred the copy layer with Gaussian blur, and blended the two using softlight – or it may have been overlay, I can’t be sure.  I also did some minor dodging to bring out the lighter parts of the ‘splash’ and I added a little vignetting.  The result is exactly what I wanted, with a somewhat surreal look to it:


This is what I saw in my head when my eyes registered the objective reality of the oil spill in the ditch.  It’s far removed from reality (whatever that is!) but it’s the equivalent of the feeling I had at the time and is a much better expression of that than the less processed version.  Of course, so much is subjective when it comes to these things and there are bound to be some who prefer the middle one or even possibly the first one, but that’s the way it goes. I filled a whole memory card with these, so there are lots left to process – this is my first selection.

Lava flow

Up there




Fiery land 2