Eight things I learned shooting environmental portraits

It has taken me a very long time but I have finally got a project off the ground.  Okay, its been in the back of mind for a long time but I finally made a start.

1/500, f5, ISO 800 @ 23mm

1/500, f5, ISO 800 @ 23mm

Over the course of the next few months I will be photographing artists from in and around Glasgow.  I want to try and show the vast variety of creative people living and working in Glasgow.  Whether they are a painter, a potter, a photographer, a sculptor or a … you get the idea,  I want to try and get a glimpse in to how these people work, what are their methods, similarities, differences, and what it is that pushes them to create their art.

I put the call out on Facebook for artists who would like to be photographed in their working studio and I have already got a lot of interest and carried out my first shoot last week, and immediately I realised this is going to be a steep learning curve.  I did my first shoot with Scottish Landscape Artist Scott Naismith.  It was fantastic see Scott working on his vivid landscapes in his studio - I really appreciate you making the time Scott.

What I learned in my first shoot

  1. PLAN BETTER - I thought I would be able to turn up, get to know my collaborator, and capture at least a few images of them at work.

  2. YOU NEED TO WORK FAST – I am used to working at more leisurely pace, planning a shot, taking my time with composition – time does not exist when working with an artist in their moment, you need to be stealthy, fast and know when to pick your moment

  3. BE CAREFUL OF BACKGROUND CLUTTER – I found it nigh on impossible to get a clutter free shot in the studio.  I managed to get some nice shots of the artist at work only for the background to be too cluttered or a brightly lit screen background ruining the shot.

  4. SHOOT LOTS OF CLOSE-UPS – artists use all sorts of interesting stuff – photograph them – you can make some nice abstract shots from these things

  5. BE CAREFUL OF REFLECTIONS – with so many different tools in use some are bound to be metal and give off some harsh reflections

  6. MY NIFTY FIFTY IS FANTASTIC - the Nikkor 50mm 1.8G is a dream lens, so flexible, lets in so much light, and pretty cheap too - buy one!

  7. KNOW WHEN TO TALK – and when to be quiet, when my collaborator was in the groove I let him be.

  8. YOU NEED TO ENJOY IT – working with other people really opened my eyes to new areas of photography I never considered before.

I have already got three more shoots arranged with different artists, with a loy more planned for November and Ican't wait to continue.  If you think you might be interested in taking part just message me here.


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Equipment used


A Mackintosh shrine: Scotland Street School Museum

Just opposite Sheilds Road subway station, Scotland Street School is a school building designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh between 1903 and 1906.  Sadly, the school fell into decline in the 1970s and was closed.  Luckily though, the school is now a museum and is open for free to to the public.

Even from the outside of the building it is pretty clear the two enormous windows are the focal attractions of the building.  These windows run the full height of the school and curve out in to the school yard.  The glass includes many of Macintosh's floral motifs.

Gorgeous windows:  1/125, f5.6, ISO 250 @ 18mm

Gorgeous windows:  1/125, f5.6, ISO 250 @ 18mm

Charles Rennie Mackintosh flower motif: 1/500, f2.8, ISO 100 @ 50mm.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh flower motif: 1/500, f2.8, ISO 100 @ 50mm.

Although the windows are the obvious stars of this building there are many other lovely Mackintosh touches on show.  Mackintosh's use of nature and natural colours are used throughout; green white, brown and blue are used throughout the whole building.

Door in the museum: 1/60, f4.5, ISO 400 @ 18mm.

Door in the museum: 1/60, f4.5, ISO 400 @ 18mm.

Visiting the museum made a refreshing change.  The interiors are fantastically photographable - had it not been for the lack of light - even those enormous windows don’t provide enough to photograph the interior without boosting ISO settings.  Nonetheless, Mackintosh’s design elements use colour, contrast and symmetry, there compositions aplenty throughout.  Give it a visit.


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Equipment used


A quick trip to Wemyss Bay Railway Station

Only a short train ride from Glasgow's Central station, Wemyss Bay is the end of the line for anyone heading to Rothesay on the ferry.  For any photographer who enjoys shooting architecture the gorgeous station at Wemyss Bay is a great little location - rail enthusiasts may just enjoy it too.

Looking up at roof : 1/100, f5.6, ISO 100 @ 50mm

Looking up at roof : 1/100, f5.6, ISO 100 @ 50mm

The station is noted for its architectural qualities and is regarded as one of Scotland's finest railway buildings.  It is a now a Category A listed bulding.  The mix of steel and glass give the building an industrial feel you would expect.  However, the combination of light flooding in through glass panels, the bright paint work and long sloping curves also provide the the building with a modern edge.  It is quite a trick.

Pillars in train station: HDR image at f11, ISO 100 @ 22mm.

Pillars in train station: HDR image at f11, ISO 100 @ 22mm.

Wemyss Bay is only a forty-five minute train journey from Glasgow and weather permitting can be photographed in a couple of hours.  The station is very quiet and staff seem to allow photographers to go about their business - I was not interrupted at all during my visit.

Photography here was a fantastic, relaxing experience.  The only issue to be aware of is amount of reflections - the light reflecting off the gloss painted surfaces was problematic but the use of a polariser minimised these.

So what do you think, is Wemyss Bay worth a visit for you?  Can you suggest any other locations to photograph?  Leave a comment below.

Equipment used

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Make beautiful black and white photography at Bowling's derelict harbour

Only a short journey from Glasgow (the train stops right at the entrance!), Bowling's crumbling harbour is a great little location for any one who like to likes to photograph all the things ramshackle.  Sunken boats sit moored in the harbour, only fully revealed at low tide.  They can make for some truly atmospheric images.  Be careful though, the harbour wall is in very poor condition and is a hazardous walk.

Looking back from the harbour wall: 1/320, f11, ISO 100 @ 35mm

Looking back from the harbour wall: 1/320, f11, ISO 100 @ 35mm

Aside from the many wrecks in the old harbour there is also the wooden pier.  As you can see from my image above the pier is a complete state of disrepair.  Old trees, tyres and other debris can be found stuck underneath, and it is not possible (nor advisable) to walk on the pier.  To be honest the structure looks like it could fall at any moment.  You have been warned.

The old pier: 1/250, f11, ISO 100 @ 18mm

The old pier: 1/250, f11, ISO 100 @ 18mm

The harbour is best visited at low tide.  You will be able to access more of the area and some wrecks are not visible when the water is at its highest anyway.  Obviously the ground can be very slippy underfoot so decent walking books are advisable.

What do you think?  Have you ever visited Bowling?  Do you have any locations you think I should visit?  Leave a comment below.

Equipment used

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Abstract architecture in Santorini

If you have seen any of my recent posts I am sure it is clear that Santorini has some wonderful architecture to photograph.  This image is part of a church exterior in Oia.

    1/500, f8, ISO 500 @50mm

    1/500, f8, ISO 500 @50mm

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    Equipment used

    Bell tower

    There are hundreds of small churches scattered all around Santorini.  Most of them are adorned with beautiful bell towers such as this one below.

    1/60, f8, ISO 100 @ 26mm

    1/60, f8, ISO 100 @ 26mm

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    Equipment used: 

    Stripe

    Prior to my family holiday to Santorini I set myself a side project of creating a collection of abstract / minimalist images using the architecture on the island.  This is the first of these shots. Hooray!  I had initially thought of releasing the images as a free e-book but instead I will post them here over the coming days and weeks.

    If you enjoy my work, feel free to share or leave a comment, I'd appreciate it.

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    1/500, f8, ISO 100, @ 35mm

    1/500, f8, ISO 100, @ 35mm

    Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 DC HSM Art lens for Nikon: first impression review

    After what seems endless hours researching different lenses for my Nikon APS-C system I finally taken the plunge and purchased the Sigma 18-35mm Art lens.

    I have been using only Nikkor 35mm and 50mm prime lenses for the last year but my increasing interest in architectural photography found me wanting to go a wee bit wider, but with some flexibility too.  Really, I wanted a lens that would work wide and at 35mm and the Sigma seemed to fit the bill for me.  Also almost every review I have read about the lens raved about the quality and sharpness (see DPReview or SLRLounge) so I felt this was a good bet for me.

    I will provide a more in-depth review of the lens when I have had some time to use it extensively and come to an informed conclusion.  For now though I discuss some first impressions in using the lens briefly during my visit to The Lighthouse in Glasgow.

    Build quality

    The lens looks professional and the build quality is excellent.  The zoom ring is slow but smooth, however it does turn in the opposite direction to my Nikkor lenses which is a little annoying.. One nice touch is the the focal length numbers are marked clearly on the zoom part of the lens making it easy to choose desired focal length. 

    Weight

    This a hefty lens.  I would say it seems too heavy for me to use as a walk around lens - I'll reserve judgement for now though.  It was my intention to sell my Nikkor 35mm 1.8 after buying the Sigma so I will see how I feel about this in the future. 

    Image quality

    Raw files look fantastic.  Clear and amazingly sharp (see below).  A real move up in quality compared to the Nikkor primes I have been using.

    f5.6, 1/80, ISO 400 at 18mm

    f5.6, 1/80, ISO 400 at 18mm

    f5.6, 1/125, ISO 400 at

    f5.6, 1/125, ISO 400 at

    Last bit

    One minor grievance I have had using the lens is that the lens does not seem to clip on properly a lot of the time.  Admittedly, this is a minor quip but for a lens that costs around the £600 mark it does seem a bit of an oversight.

    Conclusion

    With only limited use the Sigma 18-35mm is already proving to be a great lens.  The image quality is fantastic and I am pretty sure I can overcome the minor inconvenience of the zoom ring turning opposite to the Nikon lenses and the ill-fitting lens cap.  I will write a a full review after more prolonged use with the lens but of you have any questions please ask via the comment section below.

    Buy Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 DC HSM Lens for Nikon
    Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 DC HSM Lens for Canon

    Hunting out architecture photo locations in Glasgow

    I have written previously about the importance of scouting locations using a minimum of kit so I decided to take some of my own advice and get out and find some buildings to photograph.

    Glasgow has an abundance of Edwardian, Victorian (and earlier) architecture but when I am looking for locations I am always drawn to modern buildings.  I like the shapes and different materials used.

    Inovo building on George Street

    Inovo building on George Street

    The Inovo building (above) is another frequent visit of mine.  With fantastic angles and mixture of glass and steel on the exterior it is well worth visiting to photograph.  I really like this shot and will return fully kitted for a finished shot soon.  Aready made for a long exposure I reckon.

    Strathclyde University on Cathedral Street

    Strathclyde University on Cathedral Street

    Strathclyde University have lots of buildings scattered all around Glasgow.  The buildings on Cathedral Street are a good mix of old and modern styles - plus, there are lots of other new buildings popping up on Cathedral Street too.

    The shot above was taken looking down Cathedral Street toward Glasgow Cathedral.  The building in the foreground has an almost building block look about it - only squares and rectangles used in this part of the building. Again, I think this is worth revisiting to photograph properly.

    Equipment used:

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    How to make better cityscape photos: look for layers

    First things first, I know this isn't a 'killer' shot.  Its nice enough but hardly likely to win any awards.  What I do like about though it is that it doesn't look like Glasgow.  It has a bit of a Parisian feel I think.  The mix of different architectures gives shot a timeless look. 

    View from Macintosh Tower, The Lighthouse, Glasgow

    View from Macintosh Tower, The Lighthouse, Glasgow

    What interested me the most about this shot before I took it is the different layers which can be seen within it.  Each of which adds depth to the image.  Fore example:

    • Layer 1:  Victorian architecture in the foreground
    • Layer 2:  The black tin building on the roof tops
    • Layer 3:  A glimpse of 'old Glasgow' - similar to layer 1 but more aged
    • Layer 4:  Modern blocks in background and sky

    What do you think, would looking for layers in your cityscape images help you?  Do you have any other techniques for cityscapes to share?

    Equipment used:

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    Where to photograph in Edinburgh: Four hours in Leith

    Being a 'Leither' it is always great to get back to 'Sunny Leith'.  However, with my time limited to just four hours I'll have to chance my luck with the weather and have planned to focus my energies in the 'Shore' area of the town.

    Leith has undergone a mass of regeneration over the last twenty or so years with many new buildings having been built along the 'Shore' area and beyond.  As such, Leith is a heady mix of the old and modern meaning it is a must visit for any photographer in and around Edinburgh.  Get down there!

    The sharp angles on this office block at the Ocean Terminal were perfect for my photography style.

    The sharp angles on this office block at the Ocean Terminal were perfect for my photography style.

    Originally a port town, Leith built up around the docks.  Parts of the docks are still in use so there is always activity in the area.  What is also great to see is that despite the regeneration, many original original pieces of Leith's architecture are easily found.

    The Victoria Swing Bridge crosses the Water of Leith in the dock area.  Completed in 1874 it was originally used to transfer goods from shipos to storgae areas in docks

    The Victoria Swing Bridge crosses the Water of Leith in the dock area.  Completed in 1874 it was originally used to transfer goods from shipos to storgae areas in docks

    With only four hours in Leith I felt a bit short changed as there were so many more photography opportunities if I had just a little bit more time.  That being said, I have an excuse to return again soon.

    Anywhere else I should visit in Leith or Edinburgh?

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    Four steps to successful architecture location scouting

    Glasgow is famed for its Victorian architecture, however, in the last twenty years or so the city has seen a notable increase of modern architecture being introduced all across the city.  I thought I would set myself the challenge of finding and photographing some of the more modern architecture.  This is how I go about scouting for locations in Glasgow.

    Contact sheet of the buildings I plan to return to in the near future

    Contact sheet of the buildings I plan to return to in the near future

    1.  Use Google Images and Google Maps

    I started my search using a simple “Glasgow Architecture” search and identified the buildings I was interested in photographing, before searching specific for specific images of these buildings and mapping my route around town using Google Maps.

    2.  Carry a light load!

    One of the biggest benefits of location scouting is that you don’t have to carry all your gear with you.  I take my DSLR and a 35mm prime only.  That’s it – no extra lenses, no bag, and no tripod.  There is nothing worse than carrying a load of gear around only to discover what you thought was a great location is not everything you hoped it would be so scouting your locations saves all this hassle.

    3.  Don’t worry about the light yet 

    This may sound odd but at this stage I am only looking for compositions I like.  I don’t worry about the light – or the quality of image I am taking just now.  My scouting trip is solely for recording ideas for later, interesting shapes or textures on buildings.  It is not until I plan to return to photograph that I concern myself with quality and direction of light.  I usually find that when I am recording these ideas I know what I want the final shot to look like.  For example, I know whether I would like to use a long exposure or prefer a shadow on a specific side of building.

    4.  Import images to Lightroom

    When I return home I import all of my images into Lightroom and create a ‘database’ of locations I want to photograph later.  I also find it useful to print a contact sheet which I keep in my studio as inspiration for later.

    This is my scouting routine, it is fairly simple but by just planning a little I find my shoots go much more smoothly and I can capture the image I hand in my mind when I first clicked the shutter button.

    All that I need to do when I return to my location is check the weather on the day and use an app such as Sunrise Sunset to check direction of light and time of sunset.

    Conclusion and checklist

    • Search Google Images, Flickr, 500px etc
    • Map your route
    • Take minimal gear – a DSLR and one lens is enough!
    • Record images for future ideas – don’t worry about the light just yet
    • Print your images for later

    What is your scouting routine?  Do you plan even more thoroughly, do you know of any tools which may be useful?  Leave your comments below.

    Stripping it all back: simple, minimalist photography

    As well as turning towards architectural photography I now find my self trying to simplify my photographs as much as possible.  I am trying to make simple, clean image, with a lot less post-processing.

    I am really enjoying this challenge.  And it is a challenge; it is amazing how the urge to photograph 'the whole' can blind you to the more intimate shots available by spending just a little more time and searching out compositions

    I saw this shot of two doors while walking around town.  I like the contrast of the colours and the brick work horizontals and the diagonals on the doors.

    I saw this shot of two doors while walking around town.  I like the contrast of the colours and the brick work horizontals and the diagonals on the doors.

    I have to admit, I really like the 'facing' image below.  The composition is so simple.  White, black and grey, and I just love the contrast between the black lines and the light. I remember taking the shot and thinking this is the sort images I want to make from now on.  Simple, clean, and minimal.

    Facing on office block

    Facing on office block

    What do you think?  Do you like this sort of photography?  Am I barking up the wrong tree?  How has your photography changed over the years?  Leave your comments below.

    Abstract photography in Cathedral Street

    I've always loved abstract art.  Whether it be Rothko, Pollock or Kandinsky, there is something about abstraction that I just adore.

    As such I have been trying to introduce some abstract ideas to my photography.  I am trying to simplify my shots and focus on simple shapes.

    A simple shot, focussing on angles and stripe on stair

    A simple shot, focussing on angles and stripe on stair

    Abstract-Strathclyde-Univeristy-Looking-Up

    I liked the three triangular shapes in this shot

    What do you think?  Is abstract photography something you enjoy?  Do you have any favourite abstract photographs?  Leave your comments below.

     

    Where to photograph in Glasgow: Centre Street

    I spied this building down by the river when I was taking a test shot of the Casino (I still need to return and photograph it properly).  

    Grafitti-Centre-Street-Glasgow

    There is something about this that reminds me of New York - I think it must be the steel stairs.  I only wish I had wider lens (I had to make do with my 35mm) so I could get more of the building in shot - the black and white image above is a three shot panorama.

    Grafitti-Centre-Street-Glasgow

    Focus stacking with Helicon Focus and Photoshop

    In the last few months I have slowly but surely been succumbing to the joys of macro photography.  After my initial doubts about the whole process beimg to time consuming and frustrating – I could easily spend 4 hours photographing and focus stacking a shot in Photoshop only to find that the image was unusable.  To often blurred artefacts would ruin images and generally shots would appear to be too soft.

    Now, I should at this stage I am wiling to accept some the blame, I am new to the macro game and it is a genre of photography that requires a particular skillset.  That being said, I knew there must be an easier way to focus stack and after much research online I downloaded a demo version of Helicon Focus.

    I thought it would be useful to show differences in the images created using Photoshop and Helicon.  Each stack was created from the same 36 tif files with only minimal editing carried out: this is not a finished image by any means.

    The Helicon Focus stack

    You can see the image here is pretty sharp with minimal artefacts.  There is some blurring around the outside of the flower but this would be easily fixed in Photoshop.  The petals nearest the stem still hold details.

    You can see the image here is pretty sharp with minimal artefacts.  There is some blurring around the outside of the flower but this would be easily fixed in Photoshop.  The petals nearest the stem still hold details.

    The Photoshop stack

    Some obvious blurring at edges of flower and the image is far softer and the loss of detail in the petals is easy to see.

    Some obvious blurring at edges of flower and the image is far softer and the loss of detail in the petals is easy to see.

    The Helicon Focus stack

    For the sample above, the Photoshop stack is very poor in comparison to Helicons and top of that Photoshop took 30 minutes to complete the stack compared to 5 minutes with Helicon

    I dont want to delve too deeply in to the technical differences of the stacking methods but it is worthwhile noting that Helicon Focus provides three different methods of stacking compared to Photoshop’s singular method.  So it is possible to complete stacks using all three of Helicon's method types of focus stacks.

    Conclusion

    In my opinion Photoshop is just too slow to be used by anyone serious about focus stacking.  It is far too slow and the results are too unpredictable. To be fair Photoshop is a huge application with a multitude of uses.  In contrast Helicon is specialist stacking program.  It should be better, and it is. It is far faster and creates stacks that are (mostly) useable.  The only downside is Helicon costs at anything between $30 and $200 on top.of your Photoshop subscription depending on which licence you opt for - but if you are serious about macro Helicon is a must and I will purchasing very soon.

    Have you used Helicon or any other stacking software?  Leave a comment below and let me know your thoughts.