Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Photo to Pastels

Original image captured in Bayamo (I think) by photographer Leo Gasparet

It's one thing to have the skill to convert a digital photo to something that equates to a painting. It's an entirely different skill to actually copy a photo using real pastels or oils and to transform it into a real work of art. My sister does this - working off one of my student's images (Leo Gasparet), she created this great-looking reproduction. Best thing to do with a (digital copy) picture like this? Print it on watercolour inkjet paper.

Here's a great example of how the translation from digital image to art is done - created by Fiona Nichols. No photo manipulation or software tweaking involved.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Shooting star trails

One of the hardest things to 'get right' is shooting star trails. There's no light, or precious little, so it's hard to get a good, clean result.
Cameras set to Auto-everything apparently do this quite well because, on Auto, the ISO gets  cranked to the max. In today's world this means a minimum of 3200, in many cases the ISO goes considerably higher so it produces an image. However, look closely and you'll see a lot of ugly colour noise and image artifacting. Maybe not so nice. 

The best way I know to get 'clean' star trails is to keep the exposure short. Doing this gives a clean shot but not much in terms of a significant light 'trail'. So the answer is to shoot multiple short shots and put them together in post.
The recipe you see here is ISO 200, f2.8 at four to five minutes. The trick is to then shoot a second and a third frame immediately. Here I hesitated a bit too long - which is why you see some gaps inbetween the frames assembled into the 'master' file above.
I shot nine frames, selected, copied and pasted each into one 'master' file then changed the layer Blend Mode on each layer to Lighter Colour so the trails shine through each layer and, hopefully, join up into one continuous trail. For the last frame I shone my torch into the grasses for 20 seconds to add a bit more depth.

Top star trail tips:
1: Set up before it's 100% dark to get the best framing and focus set. Use Manual Focus and maybe tape the lens focussing ring with masking tape so it can't be accidentally nudged.
2: As an alternative, set the focus to Mountain Mode (i.e. infinity)
3: Lock off the tripod and make sure you don't nudge or bump the legs. It's easy to upset hours of work...
4: ISO 100-200
5: Aperture f2.8
6: Shutter to BULB - use an intervalometer set to five minutes
7: Make a test shot. Re-calibrate with a longer/shorter exposure where necessary.

This is one exposure of five minutes with a short burst from my torch to add some detail in the foreground. You can clearly see the earth's rotation in this frame but it's not enough to provide the full effect. The more exposures you shoot, the more spectacular the effect
As an adjunct to this story, as we set up for this shot, 16km out of Broken Hill, we all heard a moaning sound coming from the supposedly deserted pub at the side of the highway. After ten minutes of this eerie noise it changed to a mournful human 'heeeelp'. We walked over to the fence to see a half naked man face down in the dirt on the other side. Gordon, one of the star trail team, leaped into action, forcing his way through a steel frame fence round the back  in an attempt to locate the body. We followed with flashlights and a doctor (I never travel without one). Gordon found the guy and Dr Natalie performed a quick check of her 'new' patient to establish the damage. He didn't appear to be hurt too badly but at the same time he was far too weak to right himself and would have stayed like that all night, perhaps even longer. That far out of town, you are definitely on your own. By the time the ambos turned up, assessed the patient and ferried him off to hospital we were all a bit rattled - but we still got the shot. It was quite a night...

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Yes, But is it Art?

Having seen some seriously good art from many of the masters of the genre: Titian, Botticelli, Michaelangelo, Giotto and Caravaggio, I thought I'd take a modernist approach and have a bit of fun using impromptu portraits of featuring three of the Academy Travel's Grand Tour participants.
Marlene by Simone Martini, Melissa by Ambrojo Lorenzetti  and Jan by Sandro Botticelli.
(Thanks again to these three women for their help and good sense of humour).

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Shooting in the Rain

We have all been in a situation like this: you get to a prominent tourist spot ready to make some classic images. And it rains. Disappointment as you only have a day so so there and it looks like the rain has set in. This happened to me as we rolled into Florence. Muggy weather, then a downpour. I was stuck on the bridge to had to wait for 30 mins before I could move. Still got wet but the important thing to note is that if you can shoot evening or night shots, the rain does not show up. Or at the very least, it softens the tones nicely. 
Day two and the weather did the same. The rain was cruising past the hotel door in a horizontal fashion for about 30 mins, then the storm passed and Wow, the light was fantastic. Huge clouds, a dying sun and terrific light. 
So many photographers take one look and stay indoors but, as often as not, the photo opportunities right after a short, sharp storm are impressive. 
I loved the results I got - all HDR of course but the dram in the sky was well worth getting a bit soggy. TIP: Always take either the shower cap from the hotel bathroom or a plastic shopping bag to cover the camera when it gets really wet...

Shooting in the rain CAN produce really average results. Use HDR (bracketed images assembled into an HDR image using HDR software like Photomatix Pro) to beef up the tones and produce a truly impressive visual result (below).
Shot in the pouring rain from the relative shelter of a covered walkway to the left of the Ponte Veccio. Not a bad result considering the conditions. I left the White Balance on Auto as it produced some nice colour in an otherwise very drab looking scene (to the naked eye at least)...

Day two, after the storm, there was a bit of a sunset but that does not appear in this HDR - but what I did get were the three boats moored in the lower right hand side of the scene. The river Arno is amazingly still considering this is a 3 frame HDR shot processed using Photomatix Pro

My favourite, of course. Florence's magnificent Ponte Veccio. HDR processed in Photomatix Pro