Unlocking elements

Okay, so I keep coming back to this scene because I know there is more than one image here. I just have to remove anything that is not essential to making that image work.

I think I finally have a composition I’m happy with. The netting forms this great leading line between the vines. My only problem today was that unlike previous days, the sky this morning was really clear which presented a high contrast scene. Here are the results of bracketed exposures.

It’s a situation where there is no right exposure even in an age where high dynamic range is beyond anything film could ever do.

Yes, I could do a composite and If I was desperate I would but I like the challenge of getting it right in camera.

Using a graduated filter may have helped but I think the main problem is getting some more light and detail on the foreground. That means going back to see what late afternoon might offer. If the sky lacks any drama I may go with a different composition with less sky. Something like this.

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Culling time

I have not been well for the last day or so. The very last thing I wanted to see was this;


My preference is to have at least 25-30%  free space. My pictures folder occupies 10% of the total drive space on it’s own.  This is like the closet that gets stuff thrown into it to the point of being dangerous to open the door. I’m not the tidiest person but this makes me uncomfortable.

To be honest I knew I was going to run out of space at some point. You can’t just keep dropping hundreds of image files on a drive  forever. The obvious solution is to upgrade to a larger hard drive but I feel that is like lending more money to someone already drowning in debt. Besides, if I don’t upgrade the drive I can spend that money elsewhere, like putting it towards a new computer. Moving the photos to an external drive is an option but my backup regime is complex enough with out having to make backups of another drive.

Instead, I need to explore how I got here to see if there are changes I can make, not just to fix the current situation but to be more sustainable over time. To do that, I will look at the recording, processing and output stages of my workflow individually and see what the options are.


One contributor to this situation was my decision to switch to RAW format last year. To make matters worse I used RAW+jpeg mode on the premise it would save me time converting RAW files to jpeg for use in this blog or uploading to others sites. That made sense before I got Lightroom but now I can stick to RAW alone. True, the jpegs are small but it’s a cumulative thing over time.


The decision to go exclusively with RAW means I can remove all the jpegs that have matching RAW files, so there is another quick win. The other issue with processing is workflow. The switch to Lightroom has simplified things but there was a transition from iPhoto and project images are spread across both applications. As part of the clean up of those duplicate jpeg files I will bring the RAW files over to Lightroom.

The bracketed images made for HDR processing are another opportunity. I have been retaining them on the premise I can go back to them as my skills improve but I’m coming to the conclusion that I can just make more images, so I will pick the best exposure out of the set and remove the rest.  I can recover from backups if I need to.

There are also plugins and apps that I have downloaded and not really used all that much, so removing these will recover some more space

The last change is the hardest one and that is to be more ruthless in editing and weeding out images. I don’t necessarily suck at this but I know there is room for improvement. Currently, I remove images with any obvious technical defects in camera. The rear screen is too small to pick up everything so there is a second round of deletions when I import, again, this is the obvious errors.

Where I need to focus is the final cut. The best way I have found to do this is to park the images and come back to them after a few months so I have largely forgotten what I saw that made me press the shutter button. That helps with objectivity and allows me to be more critical.


With all the changes above successfully applied I will only be recovering space temporarily. I need to think more about the purpose of this growing collection of images and perhaps in turn why I do this. That is a whole other conversation.

What I may look at is producing some photo books from collections of images that were of personal significance. At that point I probably don’t need the digital file anymore. Another option is uploading more to the web so that what I saw and recorded is shared with other people.


There are also all the other files I download in my day to day use that contribute to this situation and may benefit from similar scrutiny. Things like eBooks and podcasts on photography, music and video. It looks like my long weekend will become a 3 day purge of all this digital clutter. Since I don’t feel like getting outside, that is probably not a bad thing.

Time and weather

Time and weather

It was good to spend some time away but this week the clock and clouds have been working against me. My focus has been on writing a paper and I was looking forward to break at Kyneton Saturday morning but there was rain. Normally that does not discourage me from pulling a camera out but there was no light either. It was dark, flat, dull lighting and I think I was feeling the same way mentally after so much writing and reading.

Disappointed, I came home and continued working with an image I made after my last visit to Kyneton a few weeks ago. Like a lot of my images, I consider it a work in progress as I try different ways to break a subject down. This is what I have right now.

The old shearing shed Kyneton

You can find this building in the Botanic Gardens. It appears to have been an old stockyard building or shearing shed that must have been relocated and partially restored. I made this in the early morning with the light behind me but the building is surrounded by tall trees so it was in semi shade. The contrast range was extreme so I decided to do a five-stop, bracketed exposure to create a high dynamic range composite. Ironically, this would not have been a problem on dull, rainy day like Saturday.

I do initial processing in Photomatix, then make final changes in Lightroom. There are a lot of decision points along the way. With black and white there is a choice about when to drop colour. You can opt to do this in Photomatix but I prefer to bring colour images into Lightroom for more precise control of tones.

While I think this result is okay, there are some more things I can do to pull out detail in the shadow and to reign in the highlights. I used a graduated filter in Lightroom to darken the trees to the top left and middle of the frame but using a physical graduated neutral density filter on the lens would help more. The other thing I want to try next time is to place a cordless remote flash set on low power behind one of the posts to put some more light under the roof without being too obvious. These measures should reduce the overall contrast and hopefully I will get the opportunity to try them next time.

In fact this subject lends itself to a range of different approaches and I hope to eventually work through all of them. It will work as a subject for light painting. I want to see what it looks like on a foggy morning or later in the day during summer. It has a lot of potential for further exploration.

The rain started to ease up Saturday afternoon and I took a quick trip outside to the garden after I spotted some droplets on leaves of the plants. I may end up cropping this image to the bottom left of the frame as that has a lot more interest. I put this image up on 500px and it has been getting a really good response.



So this post has been a bit of a ramble but the point is this, you can make images in poor weather provided there is some light to work with, even if that means that sometimes you have to supply that light yourself.

To the country I go

To the country I go

Last weekend we spent a couple of days in the Riverina district on the border between Victoria and New South Wales. While this was primarily to catch up with family, there were opportunities to get out with a camera. The light at the beginning and end of the day has a marvellous quality to it and I hope this comes through in the gallery of images below.

It was a great opportunity to play with a range of techniques and get some fresh air and socializing in at the same time. I look forward to doing more of this after I graduate in 2015. In the meantime I need to get back to writing papers…


Patience rewarded.

Patience rewarded.

Regular readers will know this image I called “Me in the City” has been a work in progress for some time which presented a number of challenges. Well, I worked through those problems and waited for the right moment.

It arrived last Thursday morning.

The sign was working, it was not raining and a golden  red sunrise lit the building for ten minutes before the sign switched off. I got several sets of bracketed images so I could use HDR. I even had time to try different compositions. Everything came together.

These are some of the images straight out of the camera. I have a little bit of post processing to do but all in all I’m happy with how this worked out.

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Project results for March 2014

Project results for March 2014

– A somewhat surprising outcome this month. I actually worked on and completed two of the themes, buildings and dice. The building theme proved quite a challenge with predawn sessions to try and realise the “Me in the city” image. I am getting closer to what I want but there is still some progress to make. The latest challenge is that part of the M in the sign is broken but rather than walk away I tested a different viewpoint and looked at some other opportunities on the way back to the office. I also played with HDR and black and white renditions. All I need is that sweet spot of early dawn light and the sign to be working. The composition is nearly right on.

The dice images were a quick and dirty experiment in slow shutter speed and rear curtain sync. So that was March and now there are new themes for April, including one I have not seen before in the bottom row centre. It looks like a small child with a monster shadow behind it. I have no idea how to interpret that yet but it has me intrigued… IMG_0314

The tree lined lane

The tree lined lane

I did not get to do anything this week with a camera, so I decided to play with this image I made last week at Gisborne, to see how it looked in black and white.

The light was flat with a lot of low-level cloud and light rain but that did not reduce the contrast difference between the shaded and lit areas.


The original plan was to use bracketed exposure to retain some detail in the highlights, the only problem was subject movement between the exposures. It is hard to pick this up until you start combining images in Photomatix to create the final HDR tonemapped image. It does have a certain dreamlike quality though…


Plan B was to use the RAW file for this image and see what I could do in Lightroom.


I am still playing with different renditions, mostly lighter greens and darker orange and yellow settings. I think it really needs a person in it though just next to the fourth tree on the right.

A trial of sorts…

A trial of sorts…

Nothing annoys me more than having an image in my head that I can’t realise. This applies to the image above. I have parts of it but it still isn’t there yet. I posted it anyway so I could talk about the journey to this point.

I currently refer to this as “Me in the city” I first saw it’s potential about 18 months ago and I have made several attempts at getting what I see to work as a successful image. When I drew the building theme this month, I thought it may be time for another go and this was the best result so far.

So basically this is an illuminated sign for a Mercure hotel, that when seen at an angle leaves only the first two characters visible against a cityscape. It seems fairly straightforward to record this but here are some of the issues;

  • Timing: The sign is only on at night but the best time to to get good light on the surrounding buildings is on or around sunrise. Sometimes the sign is off because the timing has not been changed after daylight savings starts or ends or it is simply not working.
  • Lighting: Specifically the balance between the sign and background so that one does not overpower the other. In the latest image I exposed for the highlights and the background has almost been lost in the shadows.
  • Location: There are only one or two locations where I can get the right angle and there are issues with permission, so I need to make the image quickly. One spot means making the image through glass with light reflecting off it and that is degrading the image quality. The other does not have any glass but is at a lower angle and that introduces distortion.

While I don’t have the image I want yet, I have learned some things along the way through the failures.

  • A single exposure will not cover the dynamic range, so this needs to be a set of bracketed exposures for the highlights and shadows processed as HDR.
  • The lens selection is resolved to 150-200mm. Any closer and the buildings become abstract shapes. A wider angle of view reduces the impact of the sign and introduces too many distracting elements.
  • A vertical composition works better for me and allows more flexibility for placing the sign in the frame.
  • A polarizing filter on the lens will deal with the glass reflections but increases the chance of motion blur during longer exposures.
  • I need to have everything set up ready to go before I walk onto the location so I make the most out of the limited time there.

If I can be present when the light is right and that sign is on I know I can pull off something better that the image above.  That knowledge is what keeps me going back.