Impressionism & Abstract Photography – am I out of my mind

Many long years ago as a school student, my art teacher called me aside at the end of the year and informed me that he was going to give me two bonus marks for my final assessment. I think this was for the benefit of both of us, for me it meant a pass and for him, none of the class failed.

We both realised that art was not one of my strongest subjects so we parted our ways, probably pleased to see the last of each other. I moved on to the science subjects of chemistry and physics where everything was real and meaningful and there wasn’t a need to use one’s imagination in order to be creative. I still remember every action had an equal and opposite reaction. Well my reaction was to clap my hands and rid myself of the artistic world in which I was practically a failure.

It was around that same time that I took up photography, a hobby that included the physics of light and the chemistry of film development. I was happy.  Over the last 50 years I’ve slowly come to realise that photography and art go hand in hand to some extent but realism and photo-journalism had been my thing in the past. Everything sharp and accurate, that’s the way the brain worked, until recently. Great cameras, fabulous lenses with incredible optics, all in the quest for the pin sharp image.

Occasionally something would go wrong. The shutter speed was too slow, the lens didn’t focus where I wanted, or the camera moved when it shouldn’t. Those images would be blurred and useless but somehow they had some appeal. Little did I know that the dormant and artistic right side of the brain was showing signs of awakening.

It was only recently that I decided to undertake a course in Impressionist Photography run by one of my Facebook friends, Eva Polak, a New Zealander who specialises in this form of artistic photography. With great enthusiasm, I have discovered a new and refreshing dimension of photography, one that I’m sure will remain with me.

Learning the distinction between abstract and impressionism took a little while but once I got the feel of it, the creative juices began to flow. For me that’s a big achievement when I think back to my school days and that drawing stick figures was about the limit of my artistic ability.

Here are some of my recent and not so recent images that have now seen the light of day thanks to Eva and her course. All images were totally created in-camera except the last two abstract images that were produced from regular images but using editing software to create the effect.

 

Red Barn

Red Barn

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Dawn

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Tram Stop

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Innocence

Behind Bars

Behind Bars

Baby Face

Baby Face

Take Off

Take Off

Dazzled

Dazzled

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Sparkling Melbourne

Whirlwind

Whirlwind

Firefly

Firefly

Working the Sunset

Armed with a new lens in hand, a Sigma 12-24mm ART Series, and the first opportunity to put it to the test, what better than a colourful sunset to give it a try.

Over the duration of about an hour, it was interesting to see the constant atmospheric changes that were taking place and how the light affected the location. It soon became obvious that there were many opportunities to capture not just one sunset shot, but many images, and all so different to each other. I call that “working the scene”.

You never know just how interesting the images will look unless you keep shooting and constantly adjusting exposure settings as the circumstances require. Starting the session with a shot in aperture priority and allowing the camera to do the rest soon proved that some human intervention was required. The old friend exposure compensation soon came into play with a -2 stop setting proving to be the best to start off with while the sun was still fairly high above the horizon. At this point, blues and gold colours were rather dominant and reflections were colourful and artistic. The light changed constantly, and the colours in the clouds intensified from orange/red to subtle pinks and mauve. By moving around the location as the incoming tide changed the foreground, watching the sky and the reflections that it created and working the scene, time quickly passed. Once the light was gone the show was over for another day as darkness descended.

The moral of my story is to keep shooting and keep looking for the best location within the area you are working in, in order to maximise the variety of images that may be possible. Don’t forget to look behind you from time to time as often there is another shot to be had as can be seen from the last image in this series.

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Karawarra Australian Plant Garden

A visit to any garden in the Springtime is sure to provide plenty of opportunity to photograph beautiful flowers. Visiting an Australian Native plant garden certainly won’t produce the usual garden specimens of roses and daffodils, but there is plenty of beauty to be found once you look a little closer at our Australian natives.

Nestled in the Dandenong Ranges, the two hectare Karawarra Australian Plant Garden in Kalorama was established in 1965 and our destination for a photo shoot. While nearby, the Destiny Point Cafe, located on the Mount Dandenong Tourist Road proved a welcome lunch time spot on the day of our visit.

Here are just a few specimens from the 1400 different species of native plants that can be found at Karawarra.

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Ambleside UK – People and Their Dogs

After spending a week based in Ambleside photographing the beautiful Lakes District, we decided to devote our last afternoon to observing both the people and their dogs as they went about their day.

It soon became obvious that the town was a mecca for walkers and pet lovers with many of the numerous shops and restaurants displaying signs that dogs are welcome. Yes welcome to come inside, just not on wet days in some establishments.

With the Lakes district known for its high rainfall one must wonder how many days of the year are doggy friendly ones._GNE8186_GNE8164 Mono

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But who could resist admiring some of these adorable four legged friends.

With dogs of many shapes and sizes in every direction you looked it was possible at most times to stand on the corner of the street and count at least half a dozen dogs on leads with their owners in tow. Some dogs were anxious to get to where they were going._GNE8170 Mono_GNE8162 Mono_GNE8153 Mono

There were also the patient ones that were prepared to wait around while their human companions went about their business of having an ice cream or waiting for a friend._GNE8177 Mono_GNE8159 Mono_GNE8160 Mono

Wherever you looked dogs were welcomed and obviously a big part of the mature family. We noted at the time that there was a distinct lack of children around and the dogs were plainly now entrenched as part of the family, something we sometimes refer to as empty nesters._GNE8196 MonoLooking at the people was just as interesting. I guess this lady in the passing bus was just as amused by two strangers in town walking around with big cameras. Her expression was classic._GNE8163 Mono

The hotels were busy with locals and tourists alike. This was one of our favourite dinner spots during our stay._GNE8155 MonoA mild 12 degree (54F) day for us, but no doubt quite summery for these parts of Cumbria, saw the ice cream vendors doing a steady trade._GNE8193_GNE8175 Mono

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I guess what ever way you look at it, Ambleside is a lovely village and a great place to base one’s self for a tour of the Lakes District._GNE8180 Mono

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More details of our travels through Cumbria to follow shortly.

 

Aurora Australis – Southern Aurora and How To Capture It

It isn’t often that in the suburbs of Melbourne we get to see very much of the Southern Aurora, unlike our friends in Tasmania and south island New Zealand.

When solar activity is sufficient to create activity in the middle latitudes where we live then it certainly does stir up a degree of excitement. Only once have I seen a really strong aurora from the suburbs of Melbourne and that was when was just about 8 years old in 1957 or thereabouts.

I vividly remember going to the beach with my parents just a few doors down from where we lived in Black Rock to see the amazing sky show. A full curtain of waving red to pink light in the south-western sky certainly was a sight to see. No digital cameras in those days and film wasn’t an option either and it was black and white anyway.

Such as it was, the experience left a lifelong impression upon me.

Driven by the childhood experience, I was excited to have a wonderful trip to Norway and Iceland in 2014 where we managed to capture the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). Being in the Arctic circle in the Lofted Islands was an ideal place to see the lights. To get that close in the Southern Hemisphere we would need to head for Mawson or Davis Antarctic bases to see images like this.

Aurora Borealis - Lofoten Islands, Norway

Aurora Borealis – Lofoten Islands, Norway

With rarity comes desire so whenever there are sightings in Tasmania or here on the mainland it is a photographer’s dream to capture even a glimpse of Aurora activity. Last night was just one of those occasions. With predictions from Space Weather Live www.SpaceWeatherLive.com I was prompted to have a casual look at the sky to the south from our balcony.

With a pale dim shadow in the sky, the only way to confirm that what I could see was actually aurora activity was to photograph it and inspect the image for a showing of green colour. Here is what I saw.

Looking south over the rooftops

Looking south over the rooftops

That meant action, and the race was on to prepare the gear, grab a coat and hat and head for the nearest clear view of the horizon. By the time I managed to set up at Rickett’s Point, the nearest location, half an hour had elapsed and just about all evidence of the green glow had dissipated. In typical aurora fashion, where you need to expect the unexpected, two bright shafts of light appeared in the south-southwest. Luckily I had already sorted out focus and exposure and managed to capture this image before everything faded.

View SSW at Rickett's Point, Beaumaris just before midnight.

View SSW at Rickett’s Point, Beaumaris just before midnight.

With prior sightings in Norway, Iceland and New Zealand, this is the first time in nearly 58 years that I have managed to see the southern lights from my home town. Nothing as spectacular as what I saw in the northern hemisphere, however, a sighting that means so much in nostalgia terms that it is every bit as special.

If you would like to attempt shooting the Aurora here’s a few tips.

They are unpredictable as to whether you will see them or not as clear skies and no moonlight are really needed to have a chance. Solar activity has to occur and the blast of plasma from the sun has to strike the earth at a time when there is darkness in order for you to see the effect. Sometimes its directed more to the north pole so we miss out altogether. The best way of knowing if there’s a chance is to subscribe for email alerts from Space Weather Live in the link above.

You will need a decent SLR camera that can handle higher ISO settings, a tripod and preferably a cable release. Set the camera to manual focus and focus on infinity using a distant object. Auto focus usually won’t work in the low light. Set the camera to manual mode with a shutter speed of 15 seconds and an ISO of 1200 with the aperture at around f2.8 to f4.

If your image is too bright then lower the ISO setting. If it is too dark then expose for longer, say 30 seconds. Do not exceed 30 seconds otherwise the stars will streak as they move during the exposure.

To the naked eye you may only see a pale grey-greenish hue but your camera will detect all the light and colour present that the rods and cones of our eyes are unable to see.

You will be amazed at your skycapes even if there is no aurora.

Happy shooting.

Birds of the Shetland Islands

On a recent visit to the Shetland Islands chasing landscapes I discovered a whole new area of photography that I hadn’t really explored to any great degree previously – bird photography.

Being in the company of an expert in bird and wildlife photography (Hugh Harrop of Shetland Wildlife Tours) meant that some of the skills required were quickly learnt and suddenly a whole new wave of enthusiasm took hold.

Our first encounter occurred within an hour or so of arriving on the island when we were introduced to the fascinating Atlantic Puffin colony located at Sumburgh Head.

Sumburgh Head - Shetland Islands

Sumburgh Head – Shetland Islands

The grassy cliffs dotted with their pretty summer wildflowers made a perfect breeding haven for these fascinating little birds. Spending most of the year in flocks at sea, they make their way to the various islands in the area where they scratch away small burrows in the soft soil high above the water line.

Tiny burrows dot the cliffs

Tiny burrows dot the cliffs

Nesting pairs can be seen gathering grass to line their nests as they busily go about their task while others come and go with their funny way of landing._GNE0904_GNE1045

_GNE0782With small wings compared to their body size and webbed feet not unlike that of a duck, their landing approach looks quite clumsy as they come down at a steep angle feet first and often finish with a belly flop.
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Feeding mainly on small fish and sand eels they are able to hold several fish in their beak as they return to feed their young.

_GNE2572Following on from our wonderful time with the Puffins our next bird experience was a visit to the cliffs of the Isle of Noss, another island in the Shetland Group and about an hour offshore.

The sheer rocky cliffs are home to nesting colonies of several species however the Northern Gannets seemed to be the dominant species with Skuas, Black Guillemots and the odd Atlantic Puffin making up the numbers.

Cliffs of the Isle of Noss

Cliffs of the Isle of Noss

Small part of the huge Gannet colony

Small part of the huge Gannet colony

We managed to approach within almost touching distance of the sheer cliff face as the nesting birds watched us with curiosity and a degree of attitude as if to question our presence. Undisturbed, they went about their routine of preening feathers, squabbling over territory and tending their young as the sky was filled with others circling above.

With their noise and constant bombardment of droppings from above it was an experience to remember for years to come. The following images are just a small sample of the hundreds that we managed to take as we practiced our shooting skills, learning to track and pan a moving subject from a moving boat while attempting to maintain one’s balance.

With landing rights challenged, spectators at rear wait for the outcome.

With landing rights challenged, spectators at rear wait for the outcome.

Northern Gannets with chicks

Northern Gannets with chicks

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Greenery gathered for the nest

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Gannet launching from high above the water

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Skua on the wing

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Soaring and plunging deep for fish, all a part of their daily life.

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I hope you have enjoyed viewing these images of birds of the Shetlands. There’s much more to come from our visit as I post over the coming weeks, so keep following. Greg

Filters and Time Exposures at Cape Schanck

Cape Schanck is a located in the Australian state of Victoria. It is the southernmost tip of the Mornington Peninsula and separates the wild ocean waters of Bass Strait from the slightly calmer waters of Western Port.

A popular spot for photographers, the location provides vistas to the south of rugged ocean beaches as well as the popular historical lighthouse. On an afternoon visit with a workshop conducted by well known landscape photographer Ian Rolfe, the low tide provided a great opportunity to do some long exposure work in the vicinity of Pulpit Rock.

This first image was taken using a Lee Big Stopper, a 10 stop ND filter, which effectively increases the exposure ten fold. For example, in the image below without the filter, a normal exposure would have been 1/30th second. Multiply that by a factor of 10 with the filter attached and the exposure time runs out to 30 seconds.

The effect with such a long exposure is that everything that is stationery remains sharp and anything that moves becomes a blur. Since the only things moving are the sea and clouds the effects can be quite dramatic.

30 seconds f7.1 ISO 64

30 seconds f7.1 ISO 64

As an experiment I then added an FL-W filter more commonly used in the days of film to correct the colour cast of fluorescent lighting. The filter effectively cuts out part of the light spectrum giving a warming colour cast to the image. Combining this with a smaller aperture, the extra loss of light from adding the filter and the setting sun, the exposure has extended to 240 seconds, or 4 minutes. At this point the timer on the mobile phone becomes a handy tool.

You will see in the image below just how much warmer the colours are and with the longer exposure the structure of the clouds has changed to a complete motion blur.

240 second exposure @f16 ISO 64

240 second exposure @f16 ISO 64

Like all photography, composition either makes or breaks the image, so without getting too engrossed with exposures and filter effects another look at the scene and shooting on the vertical gave a better perspective. The image below was shot at 180 seconds.

17mm 180 seconds @ f8 ISO 64

17mm 180 seconds @ f8 ISO 64

In the next image I decided to put the 10 stopper away as the light was now falling off considerably and I could shoot with just the FL-W filter attached. With the strong blue colour cast of the Big Stopper now off the lens, this allowed the warming effects of the FL-W to work to their fullest degree.

While some may not like the artistic effect created, I rather like the drama it brings into the image. At an exposure of 2.5 seconds there is more structure in the movement of the water and thus a much different effect to the longer exposures that run into minutes.

17mm 2.5 seconds f16

17mm 2.5 seconds f16

Finally to complete the session and to capture the last of the suns rays falling on Pulpit Rock I managed a 25 second exposure that caught the movement of the clouds in a rather pleasing way.

25 Seconds @ f16

25 Seconds @ f16

As you can see from the variation between images, the artistic effects of using just a couple of filters can be quite diverse. When you combine that with the unpredictability of mother nature the creative juices start to run wild.