Welcome to the blog of the Frustrated Photog.

I am not a professional, not even an expert, just an enthusiastic enthusiast.  I will share my mistakes and tell you how NOT to do it. For anyone like me who has limited time and opportunities out and about, I'll share what I can to help you maximise time behind the lens and also my photography adventures.

If you like an image in the blog that's not in the shop, send me a message!

Best wishes

The Frustrated Photog.

Project: The Birth of Time

May 17, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

The birth of time; a drop of refraction.

Just as splash photography has to be tried at least once, I think water droplets must be given a go too.  As I mentioned in the splash blog post, this type of project, though not exactly original, is very useful, especially if you are getting used to a new camera or even just getting into photography. 

In your own home, and with a few hours to spare, you can take your time setting up and adjusting settings.  It helps you get used to where things are in your camera's maze of menus, it helps you get used to the triangle of shutter speed, aperture and ISO too.  Also it adds a bit of off-camera flash into the mix as well.  There’s no rush to find or refine settings…take your time!  So it’s another of those projects that ‘keeps me out of trouble’.

As well as taking you on a learning curve, or providing extra practice, it can also produce some wonderful results.

There are of course specialists in water drop photography.  Their images are amazing, and I don’t pretend to come close.  To facilitate serious drop photography, companies produce special water drop kits.  You can set it up so the drop is consistent and this helps you produce the drop clash: two water drops colliding - one on the way down hitting the rebound of a previous drop on the way back up.  It produces an stunning images when done well! 

Another extension to basic drops and splashes is the addition of refraction, that is, using a background image behind the water drops to refract through the water

Me, I don't have a drop kit and no, I’ve not tried the drop clash - yet.  Maybe one day.  But refraction and the drop…yes.  I give you 'The birth of time'!

Birth of Time 2Birth of Time 2

The Birth of Time, f/22, 1/250, 105mm (macro), ISO200 

The metaphor for this image only grew out of the finished shots.  I hadn’t really thought about any meaningful title at the time of shooting, it was just a project.

The setup

A printed clock image (flipped on the PC so it prints back to front), was placed on the wall behind my plate of water; my reservoir to create the drops.  Water bends light, so the backwards image behind the water is seen correctly when you look through the frozen water drops.

Curtains were drawn to reduce ambient light in the kitchen.  They’re not so thick so the room wasn’t completely dark.  Kitchen?  Yes, the kitchen...no studio!

A large baking tray was employed under the plate to catch spillage.  Above this I placed a freezer bag, tied to the cupboard door handle.  No hole was made yet...far too early for drops and drips to start flowing!

The Canon 70D, which I use, can remote trigger a flashgun, so I placed my Canon 430 EXII flash to my right as I faced the water setup.  Side lighting I felt would be more interesting than just placing the flashgun on the top of the camera.  I set up my camera on a tripod, about a metre and a half away.  With the Sigma 105mm macro lens it gave me an area of about 7 cm of sharp focus when combined with a high aperture of f/22, (this lens retains good sharpness even at this number)!  

Flash power was set manually to 1/16, the lower the power, the faster the burst of light.  As a result, the flash freezes motion, not the shutter speed – having a suitable ISO, I used 200, keeps the appropriate amount of light to display the back drop to the flash.   Image Stabilisation was turned off (I actually remembered to do it!!!).

A cable release was attached.  Using the shutter button on the camera would be more awkward and could disturb focus, also I find the cable release helps me to time the shutter much better.

Next, focusing.  I flipped the focus to Manual so that auto focus wouldn’t affect the images as I worked.  I followed an imaginary line down from the lowest corner of the bag, where I would make the hole, into the plate below.  I adjusted the position of the plate, estimating the position of the drop to hit the centre of the water.  I then placed a small heavy ornament in the centre of my reservoir and adjusted my focus.  Then I made sure that the front of this ornament was as sharp as possible by using Live View and zooming in 10x. 

Test shots were then taken.  The settings for ISO and flash power mentioned above were not the first ones I tried.  It’s trial and error.  I repeatedly adjusted the flash power and the ISO until the front of the ornament was nice and clear.

The ornament was removed.  Now I made the hole in the corner of the bag with a safety pin.  The hole shouldn't be too too big, you don’t want the drops to come too fast!  The drops began! 

Next I took a couple of shots. 

Don’t worry about catching the drop rebounding from the water right from the get-go.  First just ask yourself: were those shots bright enough?  Sharp enough?  Adjust your settings and focus as you need with the next drops.  Once you are happy with sharpness and brightness, then you can start trying to catch the drop hitting the water.  Either to catch the crowning effect, or the rebound of a drop coming up from the reservoir.

How many shots did I take? Erm, a lot! Maybe 100?  Not sure.  Many were deleted after import as they were clear misses.  Only finish when you are sure you have got the shots you want.  Put your glasses on if you need them to check sharpness.  Make sure your best timed shots are tack sharp before you pack up the setup!  Don't make my premature termination error!

The birth of time then.  Well, some of the missed shots showed only ripples, inevitable with this type of photography, but as you see, the clock face is still reflected, often with a Dali-esque distortion of the clock face in what could be the primordial soup of creation.  And in the well-timed captures that caught a drop of water rebounding back up; the clock face is refracted in that small bead of watery glass and elements of the clock's reflection are still visible in the reservoir at its feet.  Eh voilà! Time was born!

Primordial Soup?

Birth of Time 1Birth of Time 1

The star from the flash on the top image was a complete fluke.  I don’t have the technical prowess to create that deliberately in camera (or in Photoshop for that matter), it was a wonderful stroke of luck.  The picture without the star still would be nice, but the star gives it that extra special something.  A certain je ne sais quoi, no idea why I am ending paragraphs in French now!  That's 2 in one blog post...

Anyway, have your tried drop or splash photography?  Share links to your galleries or post comments.  I’d like to see you work!

Best wishes

The Frustrated Photog.


Macro Lenses: Getting it all in focus

May 13, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

Macro lenses are great to work with; true macros that produce the image in full on the censor and have a fixed aperture can give wonderful shots.  I use the Sigma 105mm Macro f/2.8, my experience of it has been great, the lens can be wonderfully sharp...but of course only when used correctly.

Dreamy smooth bokeh isolates the subject and always looks good so f/2.8 is the go to setting, right?

Well, no, not always. 

Focal length and distance to the subject also affect the depth of field (DOF) and so, being a 105mm lens (+ a crop sensor) and getting up close to fill the frame, results in a DOF of just 0.19cm (with a distance to subject of 50cm).  That’s not easy to keep in focus hand held, regardless of shutter speed. (Stats according to Aimens DOF Calculator App).  You can try the rocking back with a fast shutter speed and high speed shot mode, close to the spray and pray technique I guess, but could work. 

Solutions then...

Specialist Macro lenses – normal macro lenses should show the image at full size, but there are also lenses around that offer even great magnification, one I’ve heard of is the Lomo 3.7x, also an 8x. These are called microscopic lenses I believe.

Increase the aperture – on some lenses you can probably safely go down to f/16 before diffraction starts to soften the image, and if you are filling the frame, ultra smooth bokeh shouldn’t be a factor, but even if you have some background, you can probably get to f/8 or f/11 (depending on your distance to subject) before the background becomes a problem.

Move further back – too far though and you won’t fill the frame.

Focus stack – this may be the only option if you want to maintain a creamy smooth bokeh and/or keep the frame filled with the subject.  Thanks to modern software, it’s relatively easy.

 

Photoshop has an auto mode.  Edit>Align Layers first, then Edit>Auto Blend Layers>Stack Images and some whizzo algorithm does it’s thing to work out what is/isn’t in focus and automatically applies layer masks and gives you a final image.

Recently though, PS didn’t quite hit the spot...some areas of the flower were left blurred as it choose the wrong layers/areas to masks, only slight, but noticeable around the centre of the flower.  I could’ve adjusted the masks manually.  Who am I kidding? No I couldn’t! I don’t possess that kind of PS skill!  Working out what’s showing and what’s masking what over 7 or 8 layers is beyond the scope of my brain power.

Enter specialised software. 

I hadn’t used a bespoke stacking program before so performed a web search to see what was recommended.  It came up with a couple that I tried, the first, the interface was a little bit weird, I needed as low a learning curve as possible.  Stacking is not something I do a lot, so I could well do without spending hours learning how to use a program.  The one I used to obtain the result below, stacked from 9 images, was Helicon Focus 6.  I performed this while using the trial program, and, no sponsorship involved, I have to say that I will have to buy this software.  It seems to have done the job very well. 

 

What do you use for macro work?  Do you have any go-to settings to ensure good DOF?  Share your thoughts with a comment!

Best wishes

The Frustrated Photog.


Shards of Glass

May 09, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

Or more precise, the Shard, made of metal and glass; or some other modern materials that I have no hope of understanding.

Like most tall buildings, the Shard dominates many of the scenes taken around it.  As modern architecture goes it’s alright, and you’ll regularly see tourists and photogs alike lining it up in their viewfinders.

I visit London regularly, may be five or six times a year.  Ok, that may not sound so regular but remember, I live in Turkey.  On my visits home I’ll make a few day trips into the city to see what new shots can be created.  It’s quite useful to keep going to the same place, there's always different light and perhaps different weather.  It's good practice to try and find new creative ways of taking similar sights, or to find new scenes altogether.  Read my blog posts on this subject. (same subjects - same locations)

The Shard then. 

Well, I too have shot it from many different angles, both day and night.  One of my favourite shots being that of the Shard rising above Southwark Cathedral.

Nearer but not closer, f/11, 1/40, 26mm, ISO320

Another common choice, especially at night, is from the north bank of the Thames near Tower Bridge and the Tower of London, looking across into the cluster of modern buildings.   The shot below taken from Tower Bridge, without a tripod, my camera was placed and held firm on the wall of the bridge, while still strapped to my neck...to avoid a disastrous muppet moment!

Gleaming Shards in Darkness, f/16, 2secs, 29mm, ISO800

There are also many more shots to be had!  Around the feet of those same city buildings, and the curved pizza box of city hall, there are lots of leading lines with the ornamental features to play with.  They’re on my list for the next visit, hopefully at night with a long exposure to blur crowd movements.  Hopefully, I can get a shot with a tripod without being moved along.  The police are always polite about it, and tripods do block the crowded pavements after all – aren’t selfie-sticks just as annoying? 

Either way, perhaps next winter I will have a higher chance of success.  The streets will be less crowded, the police not having to work so hard to keep people moving, and the lights will come on much earlier.  In summer, even at 9pm the sky can still be quite light.

A new shot (for me) of the Shard I tried recently was with the Thames at low tide, shooting from down on the pebble beach with a nice long exposure of the water.  The Thames has a long history of industry in the old city and, as the water recedes, you can see a lot of the timbers that belonged to the old wharfs rising up.  They add interest to the foreground.

This one evening in January, I wasn’t the only one with this idea!  Several photographers, with tripods and expensive looking pro gear, were already down on the beach lining up shots.  The best place for this is by the Millennium Bridge leading from the Tate Gallery to St Paul’s.  Just on the north side of the Thames there are steps down...but please WATCH THE TIDE!  The water can rise very quickly!  You can also get your feet wet thanks to the wake of the river taxies going up and down, (as happened to me).

I lined up the shot first from just under the bridge, still up on the Thames path.  As is always my technique before using the Big or Little Stopper, I lined up the composition without any filter first, adjusted the focus and angle slightly, turned manual focus on, (otherwise it adjusts when attaching the filter – something I learnt the hard way), and of course double checked that image stabilisation was off (something else I learnt the hard way).  Filters on, I timed the shot on my phone, using a remote release to start and stop the shutter.

The changing tides, f/16, 48secs, 28mm, ISO100

The beach below now a little clearer, down I went.  So many choices with the old timbers for foreground interest, perhaps these should have been the subject with the Shard in the background out of focus?  Maybe that’s a shot for next time.  The other photogs would need to be cloned out, but no problem, Photoshop has its uses!  I bracketed exposure, the sky was a little too bright compared to the water, and the skyline too erratic to make good use of a grad filter.

I lined up the shot again.  The boat...the wave...wet feet!  But more importantly, dry camera.  It was standing well up on the tripod.  I had to work faster, the tide was coming in and the timbers were beginning to disappear.  I fired off some more shots making various slight adjustments to my focus and angle to try and maximise the best perspective.  I am not 100% sure it works as a shot: nice foreground leaves the Shard too distant, and no foreground is, well, just another shot of the Shard.  

Definitely next time I plan to make those timbers the subject with a narrow depth of field to render the south bank skyline, and the Shard, out of focus.  Perhaps that will be an even better shot of the Shard, concentrating on its place looking down on the history of London.  I will post that shot when I can, though I guess that’ll be next winter, and I'll make sure I get down on the beach at the start of low tide to maximise the amount of timbers on show.

Furthermore, I certainly have to take this shot again.  My muppet moment about cutting off long shutter speeds too early left me using an ISO of 800 for this shot.  The 70D doesn't work well getting up towards ISO1000, 800 should be ok, but also the shot was under exposed, I needed to push Shadows and Exposure a lot to get the shot below.  Unusable really!  Read my blog entry on my Too, too dark muppet moments!

The Tides of Time on Old Father Thames, f/16, 60secs, 19mm, ISO800

What ways have you found to creatively capture landmarks?

Share your ideas, write me a comment, post your links!

Best wishes

The Frustrated Photog.


Muppet Moment09 – Premature Termination

May 05, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

I’ve hinted at this problem in a recent post about splash photography.  So it seems time to share another of my MUPPET MOMMENTS.  This particular moment of muppetry can actually run into an hour or so of lost time – it’s a biggy!

Sugar³Sugar³

Sugar3, f/11, 1/250, 85mm, ISO200

With this shot above, I think I lost over 90 minutes in re-work…

What do I mean by premature termination?  Well, picture the scene with a more typical splash photography project:

  1. The kitchen is tidied and everything normally on the kitchen table and work surfaces is cleared away
  2. The table is covered with a waterproof sheet, carefully angled up on all sides to make a bowl shape, (so as to stop spillages finding the floor)
  3. Boxes are set on the table to lift the subject so that the flash can light it from below and behind
  4. The diffuser is in placed behind the boxes and subject
  5. The lemon cut
  6. The plastic ice cubes in place
  7. The glass filled
  8. The camera set up
  9. Focus set – flash set and a bag on flash to protect from splashes
  10. You take some test shots
  11. Make necessary tweaks and adjustments to flash and focus
  12. You make 20-30 shots getting what you think is a good sharp shot
  13. The kit is dismantled
  14. You pack it all away
  15. Slowly, carefully, mop up the water on the table 
  16. Restore the kitchen to its former functional, but neat, glory
  17. You finally get to load the photos on the computer and then…

Blast!

The best images aren't as sharp as you’d hoped, the position of the splash just off, the lemon not angled well; it’s not perfect – no, not even close. 

You’ve gotta start again!

Double Blast!

MUPPET!

It may seem obvious.  Yes, to me too, NOW! Don’t be funny!

Clearly the thing to do is to check the shots, perhaps even edit them fully, on PC and make SURE you’re 100% happy BEFORE you pack the kit away.  Step 17 should move to step 13, even if your kitchen is needed for Sunday lunch.

This happened with the lemon splash image from the earlier post, I didn’t re-set up.  I left it as is.  The lemon splash was just a project that I knew had no originality, I just wanted to give it a go. But the Sugar3 image above was something I had planned and thought about attempting for sometime beforehand.  I had a white sheet over my all-purpose waterproof table cover, sugar in piles and carefully stacked sugar cubes and positioned figures.

All this paraphernalia was put away tidily.  I had checked my images on the rear screen, honest I had.  Perhaps, it was about this time that my eye-sight started failing, only now I realise the timing fits.  Either way, I should have loaded the images and checked them full-screen FIRST.

The original image wasn’t composed well, it looked too thrown together and ill-thought out, despite the prep and planning that I’d put into it.  And what exactly had I focused on?  I couldn’t tell.  Blast!  I promise that 'blast' wasn’t exactly what I had said at the time though!  Something far less printable!

It all had to be set up again.  That took time, but, this second time, the shots were double checked very, very carefully to ensure they were ok before I dismantled the setup.  Was it worth it?  Well, maybe.  I am happy with the final image, it satisfied the vision that I’d had in my mind's eye.

So, don’t be a MUPPET!  Check it!

Have you ever made a mistake like this? What to share? Send me a comment and we’ll set up a support group J

Best wishes

The Frustrated Photog.

 

P.S. no sugar was wasted!  :) 


Piering at Brighton

May 01, 2018  •  1 Comment

Brighton beach, the UK one, East Sussex, on the south coast of England, is a wonderful spot for seascapes combined with architecture, for two glorious reasons which we’ll get to in a moment. 

It’s a seaside town, a wonderful laid back atmosphere, and a promenade stacked with bars and folk generally having a good time.  The lanes beyond the seafront are a wonderful maze of interesting shops, and the Regency Period Pavilion is a wonderful piece of architecture.  A wonderful structure to photograph with its domes and curvature, weather you're into architecture photography or not!

Domed! The Royal Pavilion, Brighton: f/11, 1/160, 35mm, ISO100

Oh, I do like to be...: f/11, 1/80, 53mm, ISO100

Brighton is also home to not one but two piers, the Palace Pleasure Pier and the old West Pier.  Although they are both pleasure piers built in similar styles, they now present very different photographic opportunities.

Water, cloudy UK skies, looks like a time for my long exposures once again, but the first time I visited Brighton, (post-photog enthusiast bug infection), the only filter with me was my screw-in polarizer, and I had no tripod. 

Long exposures were well out of the question.  Sad, because the sky was stunning!  Perhaps actually that's a good thing, the skies were dramatic enough and blur may have lost some of the drama.  Blue skies were mixed with some very moody cloud. 

Apocalyptic? f/11, 1/50, 15mm, ISO100

The palace pier, on that first day, didn’t inspire me with an interesting composition, the sky in that direction wasn't as dramatic.  It was nice to look at, but...well, not so special.  Nice views don't necessarily make good photos!

The West Pier, was beckoning, so many options.  Gorgeously grim in its aspect, lovely! It had to be done.  Hand holding shots from all angles, most bracketed to ensure the highlights in the bright patches of sky could be held in the image.  The problem was though, just which angle was the best?  Zooming in, or zooming out to include the shore? Partly side on, or full frontal?  One thing that made up my mind was that side on, with the columns, was sadly too distorted to get everything straight in the final image. 

As you see from the shot below, the old West Pier is now a sorrowful specimen after being left to ruin from fire damage, but at the same time gorgeous to photograph.  The hard dark timbers against the sea and sky, combined with a few of the steel columns that rise obstinately from the beach.

Blasted! f/8, 27mm, ISO100, 3 shots bracketed.  HDR in Photomatix Pro

Hand holding was the only choice.  I didn’t even have a bag with me on which I could put the camera to frame up a long-ish shot that, without filters, still wouldn’t have been all that long unless I took the aperture down to a ridiculously small f/32.  At such a size the image would be softened too much.  No point. 

Brighton II – The Revenge of the Frustrated Photog. 

This time I was ready!  I was armed with my tripod and my filters, I could blur the sea and sky at will.  The sky on this second trip was definitely not as interesting as the earlier visit, but the blue was glorious and this, together with a few white clouds and the sea blurred with a long exposure presented gorgeous colours.

StretchingStretchingBrighton Palace Pier, summer 2017

The Palace Pier, f/16, 131 secs, 31mm, ISO100

Long exposure looked gorgeous, the question was just how much?  The waves themselves were beautiful, crashing in freely.  I could go longer with the shutter speed but leaving a trace of the waves, as in the shot above, left the impression of movement that an even longer exposure would’ve killed off.

The shots down on the pebble bank near the palace pier lasted at least 30 minutes.  A whole selection of framing, with and without the shoreline, close ups of the pier structure, and wider views.  I took the filters off and went for freezing the waves smashing against the legs.  An alternative view that, while interesting, didn’t present great images. 

My normal routine was followed for all filter work, composing, lining up and taking test shots without the filters, before placing them on.  Several times forgetting I was in auto focus mode, and so I lost the focus as soon as I tried to place the filters on...one quick click and that was rectified.  Almost a muppet moment, but I fixed it!

As fun as it was photographing the Palace Pier with long exposures and the crashing waves, there was something much more interesting waiting for me along the beach...the West Pier.  Long exposures with those achingly sad timbers, it was the main target of the day, and had been since I'd visited last time without the kit.

I got there...blast!  A bloke with a tripod exactly in the middle of the old columns where I wanted to be.  Grrrr...ah well.  I found another angle while I waited.  Fortunately, he wasn’t long, a couple of shots and then he was gone, weird.  Or maybe he doesn’t share the same fascination with long exposure and water as I do?  Very possible!

The shots were lined up.  Straight on.  Side on.  With the columns.  With the shore.  Without the shore.  30, 40 minutes passing as I took plenty of shots, I was determined not to miss a composition...yet I know I did.  I also fell foul of my muppet moment, cutting a long exposure off far too early and ending up with an image that was far too dark to use, and my other classic; getting light in between the filters and reflecting the numbers on the front of the lens back into the censor.  Damn!  But at least I noticed both this time...and got another, better shot.  Maybe I am learning after all!  Click the links to read each Muppet Moment post!

Despite the glorious blues of the day, both the sky and the turquoise effect of the motion blurred sea, perhaps the most striking image of the day was the old West Pier in mono, simple and stark!  Two vloggers that I follow, Mr Danson and Mr Heaton, both preach simplicity in composition.  I understand why!

RuinRuinThe remains of the fire damaged West Pier, Brighton

Ruin, f/16, 55sec, 38mm, ISO100

DerelictionDerelictionA long exposure shot of Brighton's derelict West Pier

Dereliction, f/16, 44sec, 50mm, ISO100

It was definitely worth going back to Brighton with full kit.  I am delighted I got the chance to cross off the long exposed shots of the West Pier from my photo bucket list.  

Share links to your shots showing the same place in different weather/light!  What places are you waiting to get back to?  I’ll be sure to reply!

Best wishes

The Frustrated Photog.