14 November 2011

Guyana - Land of Many Waters

Finally, after a lot of re-editing, various drafts of different layouts, and then weeks of slotting it all together, here is the Guyana Photo Book - Land of Many Waters

Environmental Photographer of the Year book now available

The book from this year's EPOTY is now available, showcasing the winning images and other selected entries from the competition this year.  With 10,000 photographs from over 100 countries submitted this year it must have been quite a job for the judges.  Some of the images in the book are fantastic.  Bjorn Leirvik's Silver and Gold is a fantastic abstract on a grand scale; Michael Theodrik's Diguyur is a pciture that has it all - great composition, a mixture of sharpness and movement, balancing elements of interest and great eye contact centre frame, which works well with the square crop; Maio Pereda's Unsustainable Development is a beautiful photograph of an ugly subject, perfectly balanced; Graham Morgan's Snow Monkey Baby stands out with its stunning clarity; and virtually every photograph in the Underwater World section of the book is breathtakingly stunning.

The judges had some nice words to say about my image in the Natural World category.  Maybe I've seen it too much, but alongside the competition its flaws stand out strongly to me!

Time to make plans for an outright winner in EPOTY 2012!

09 November 2011

Capturing Lightning over Kaieteur Falls

Since my photograph of lightning behind Kaieteur Falls, Guyana was awarded winner of the Natural World catagory of the Environmental Photographer of the Year, and subsequently appeared on the National Geographic website, I've had a few queries about how to actually take a photograph like that.  So here's the story:

I arrived at Kaieteur after spending nearly two years living in a small Amerindian Village in the interior of Guyana.  Being there for two full rainy seasons, when travel is almost impossible, I'd got quite used to lightning and had managed to get some practice photographing it.  I had three nights at Kaieteur and I was hoping to get a photograph of the falls at night with stars behind.  I had in mind a star trail photograph.  I'd seen a few photographs of Kaieteur in Guyana tourist brochures - the obligatory shot from the plane, and the view from above the falls, and I wanted to achieve something different.

I'm sure everybody who visits Kaieteur remembers their first sight of the falls.  My initial thoughts were that I couldn't do justice to the scale of the sight by taking a photograph.  I probably sat for around an hour, staring at the water falling down whilst thinking that it wasn't really worth getting my camera out.

After a while I took a panorama of the falls and the valley below.  A storm was running up the valley, with a few flashes of lightning, but the lightning stopped when the storm was still about 30 miles away.

The first night, I discovered something interesting.  The water in the river, heated by the sun during the day, holds onto its heat longer than the air around the falls.  As soon as the sun sets the air starts cooling, but the water doesn't.  As it tumbles over the falls and crashes into the rocks below it gains a little more heat and then, as it is smashed against the rocks, the water evaporates and becomes a warm mist.  The mist slowly builds and rises in the cooling air and the entire area becomes swamped in a thick fog.  My plan for a photograph of the stars behind the falls was ruined.

The next day I explored the different viewpoints around the falls.  I managed to get my different view of the falls when I spotted a hawk flying in front of the curtain of water - I would have preferred a Harpy Eagle, and it would have been nice for it to be flying a little closer, but I was fairly pleased with it.

The night I got the lightning strike shot I was lucky.  The lightning came up the valley again, but it was later, right after sunset.  The mist had started building in the bottom of the valley, but mostly it hadn't reached more than halfway up the falls (although a small wisp can be seen in the photo).  I set up my D700 on a tripod and using a 20mm lens framed the falls to the right of the picture.  The lightning was all to the left of the picture, but it was moving to the right and I hoped that I would get a strike in the centre of the frame.

Lightning photography really comes under the category of flash photography.  It's a big flash which you don't control when and where it goes off, but the results are the same.  In any flash photography you can't really control the speed of the flash.  It is very, very fast.  Your only control over the exposure given to the light coming from the flash is through aperture and ISO settings.  In this shot I would have the (lightning) flash in the picture.  The lightning would also be used to provide light to the water in the river above the falls - either directly if the flash was behind the river, or from reflection off the clouds if the flash was where I expected it to be - more to the middle of the picture.  I chose f/5.6 and ISO 640 for this occasion.  There was a little bit of light coming through the clouds behind me from very weak moonlight.  It wasn't enough to cast a shadow and wouldn't have been enough to stop me falling over the edge of the viewing point if I didn't have my torch with me (there are no guardrails at Kaieteur - it is truly unspoilt)!  A few test shots confirmed that a speed setting of 30 seconds was giving just enough exposure on the falling water.  In hindsight a little longer would have been better - but 30 seconds is easy to set, whereas 40 seconds is a real pain!

With the camera on the tripod and all settings locked in on manual I just had to sit there and press the shutter every 30 seconds, waiting for the lightning to move into the right place.  There was a strike every few minutes, and at one point I feared it was moving behind me - with my camera on a metal tripod on the highest point around I was a bit of a sitting target!  Most of the strikes were to the left and out of the picture, but they were moving closer.  Finally after about 45 minutes there was a strike that really surprised me.  It started as a ball of lightning nearly in the centre of the picture and the forked lightning came down almost to the left of the waterfall.  It was very nearly out of frame, and in a completely different place from the previous strikes.  I checked I'd caught it, and then continued clicking away waiting for another strike, but that was the last one, and the storm rolled away towards the distant Pakaraima Mountains.

How much work was done in Photoshop afterwards?  Well, actually none, as I use Lightroom, which is restricted to more photo development style work, rather than the picture creating, pixel editing capabilities of Photoshop.  But to answer the question in more detail:
I rotated the image a little.  Setting up the photo I could see virtually nothing through the viewfinder, not even the horizon.
I adjusted White Balance.  Digital cameras are pretty good at working out White Balance.  Most things I set myself on manual, but with WB I leave the camera to worry about it.  Part of the reason is because the camera often gets it right, but secondly, it's so easy to reset afterwards that it's not worth worrying about (unless you are using flash with gels).  Of course, in this case the camera had pure darkness to look at whilst trying to work out what WB to use, so it set an odd value around 4800k which made everything look a bit purple.  I reset it to 5793k, a custom level near daylight, in Lightroom.
I increased Colour Saturation.  By 3%, which is a habit I have with most of my photographs.  This is linked to the JPEG conversion setting.  I used a Camera Standard setting, rather than Camera Landscape or Camera Vivid.  With the colours in the lightning, the Vivid or Landscape settings would be too garish.  The Standard setting gives more subdued colours.  I also desaturated the blue channel a little.

And that's all.  A few small dust specs are cleaned out and the smaller versions of the picture are sharpened to be crisp on screen.  Not a great advert for Photoshop!

Meanwhile - I've since worked out how to take the shot of the falls with clear sky and stars behind...  If anyone wants to sponsor me the price of a flight back out to Guyana I'm confident I can do it this time!

26 October 2011


Today I took my first photos since getting knocked off my bike by a car mid-August.  I'm getting better fast, but haven't been out much!  The light outside has been looking fantastic this week, but for this one I stuck with a bit of flash - one down low left giving the highlights to the edge of the tyre and the inside of the wheel rim to the right, one umbrella from above giving gentle light to everything, and a tiny little bit of on camera flash to give a little bit of texture to the tyre nearest the camera.  I think this weekend I might take a trip to the bike shop!

06 August 2011

Coffee Morning Raffle

I found myself at a small coffee morning with a large camera!  I got the feeling that it wasn't the time to intrude, so I tucked myself in a quiet corner and took a few subtle detail shots.  Sometime in the future I might do a whole series of these for fun!

26 June 2011

Newcastle Abseil

A great, sunny day for abseiling from the Vermont Hotel, Newcastle.  Five people did the 200 foot abseil for Save the Children and I got a chance to take a panorama from the top of the hotel.  Would be nice to go back at night though, for another view of the river!  Click on the images for a larger view.

24 June 2011

The Great North Swim

Well done to Save the Children fundraisers Bara and Vicky who swam in the Great North Swim on Lake Windermere this weekend.  It was a cold grey day, and they looked a bit nervous before the start, but they both completed the mile long swim in under 40 minutes.

24 May 2011

Lamborghini at Pro Porsche

After a doing some photos of a Porsche 996 Turbo for sale at Pro Porsche I got time to photograph a Lamborghini which has been in having some work done.

And here's the 996 Turbo ready for sale!

20 May 2011

Acorn Antiques - The Show

Following the publicity photos for Acorn Antiques The Musical I went along to take some photos for the dress rehearsal.  I couldn't resist going back later in the week to see the show without a camera in the way!  It was a great evening and a great show.

16 May 2011

Buttershaw Youth Centre 'Our Shout'

I took some photos at a Save the Children event near Bradford this week.  During the event I noticed that everyone involved in running the event had a bright red t-shirt on, and down the side of the the hall were thick, black curtains.  With a bit of table moving, a borrowed Save the Children banner, and an enthusiastic group of subjects we got an image which sums up the energy and enthusiasm of the centre.  Group shots bring so much opportunity for things to go wrong, but when they go right they are very rewarding!  Of course, there's still room for improvement - one guy at right back is a little bit lost, and I don't like the shadow far right - but on the whole, I think it's an image they'll like.

12 May 2011

International Panorama Awards 2011

I've been meaning to reprocess the Lethem Rodeo montage picture for a while now.  The Epson international panorama competition gave me a good excuse.  It's a slow business combining these four frames in photoshop, so it was nice to be given a Bronze Award for the final image.

I also submitted a second image - This strange vertical panorama from Kaiteur Falls.  Seemed like a good opportunity to present something a little different to the judges.  It also got a Bronze Award.

19 April 2011

Acorn Antiques the Musical, Huddersfield

I had a quick photo shoot in Huddersfield with the cast of Acorn Antiques from the Spot On Musical Theatre.  We had the use of a Huddersfield cafe for about an hour whilst they set up for the day and, hopefully, before too many customers arrived.  The hour flew by, but the cast were great - quick to position, happy to wait, and having fun throughout.  I'm looking forward to the next stage of getting some shots at their first dress rehearsal next month.

10 April 2011

Naomi & Mark, Surrey

A busy weekend at the wedding of Naomi and Mark at Denbies Wine Estate in Surrey.  A lovely setting for a wedding, though it was a shame that the vines were all bare.
Fantastic spring sunshine and perfect temperatures made this a memorable day.

31 March 2011

Jesuits and Friends - Magazine Cover Spring 2011

An old photo from Guyana has found its way to the front cover of the Jesuit supporters magazine 'Jesuits and Friends'.

I also got the back cover shot too - with this shot of lightning over Kaituer Falls, Guyana.

25 March 2011

Pro Porsche, Brighouse

After a week of great sunshine and the beginning of spring I had a cold, grey morning taking some photos of the Pro Porsche team in Brighouse for their website and promotional material.

I'm not sure which ones they're going to be using, but at the moment I like the dark, moody version of the team shot.  And just to add a bit of contrast, here's a picture of young trainee Joe getting a Ferrari ready.  It's not just a Porsche garage - in fact, there's a Lamborghini having some work done which might have to guest star in some photos once it's ready to be moved.

To finish off the shoot, a few days later, we headed up to Saddleworth Moor for some good evening light.

18 February 2011

Pro Porsche, Brighouse

I've just finished an afternoon of photography for ProPorsche - an independent Porsche specialist in West Yorkshire.  It was a cold, grey day - not so great for standing around outside, as the temperature was at about 2 degrees, but good for getting even lighting on the cars without using too much fill in flash. 

It was a great location - a country estate close to the hidden grave of Robin Hood.  Hopefully I'll get more chances to visit there again.  I'd like to go see the grave, and also I want another go at mobile rig car shots - this one below is what the first attempt came out like.

24 January 2011

An unexpected find

I was helping my dad clear out his loft last week, and we came across a small treasure trove of cameras.  In amongst a few worthless compact bits of plastic (though maybe the Canon IXUS APS will be a museum piece one day) we found his old Adox camera which he bought in Malta whilst in national service there in the 1950s.

I remember this camera well from my childhood.  Maybe this intriguing bit of equipment, with its folding front door and collapsing bellows, helped generate my own interest in photography.  I even remember the first picture I took on this camera (possibly also my last, as 35mm was the way forward and this camera was on its way out - or at least to the loft).  Maybe one day I'll have a look and see if I can find that photo.  For now, I'll just say it wasn't very good.

The unexpected find was a camera bought by my grandmother in the 1920s.  The camera wasn't unexpected - I remember seeing it before, and maybe even playing with it when I was young.  The unexpected part was that I'd never realised the grandmother who bought it was on my mother's side.

My mother was a painter.  She started painting late in life, but progressed at a surprising rate.  I'd always hoped that I might achieve some balance between the artistic merit on my mother's side of the family and the technical nous on my father's.  Finding this nice Kodak on my mother's side tilts my preconceptions a little!  I can now claim a long family history in photography- a fine pedigree.  All I need to do now is get out there and take some fine photos to match...