Tuesday 2 January 2024

Bangor on Dee Racecourse

 As a former photo club member, the subject matter for my photography was wide ranging to fit the monthly competition titles of Landscape, People, Man Made, Pictorial and Illustrative. For club competition purposes Illustrative includes sports and I've occasionally taken the opportunity to visit Bangor on Dee Racecourse near Wrexham in North Wales to capture some horse racing action. I'm not a betting man so my visits are concentrated solely on photography. 

Bangor on Dee is a lovely picturesque race course in the middle of the Welsh countryside with no ugly distractions intruding on your backgrounds. It's very visitor friendly and the entry fee to the open course is cheap whether you're a punter or enjoying the racing for your photography. 

Picnicing on the open course

Car parking is on a wide grassy bank above the open course and you park on the course for free and picnic while enjoying the action with views of the final fence and final hurdle, the finishing post and the first two fences of the course. Entrance to the paddock and parade ring is extra. For views of the furthest action with race commentary a large screen is provided on the inner course opposite the finishing post and the car parks. 

TV screen to follow the race action 

On my first visit to the course a few years ago the stewards on the course allowed me access to the final fence and final hurdle through to the finishing post and beyond to the first two fences covering around 15% of the course and there were plenty of amateur photographers on the course. This gave me the opportunity to capture some nice close up action but on my most recent visit in October 2023 for some unknown reason I was restricted to the first fence which was disappointing. I was the only photographer on the open course so I took some fill in shots using a long lens. The photographs are a mixture from both visits.

Report on the "going" by Sky Sports

On course "bookie"

A horse racing fan

From the parade ring to the course

On my first visit I was able to get very close, some 4 feet from the final fence and first two fences and the shots were taken using a Zeiss 12mm f2.8 Touit and a Samyang 8mm fisheye lens. The long shots of the hurdling on the inside track were taken with the Sony 70-200mm f4 lens and heavily cropped.

The final fence

The first fence

The final hurdle

Hurdle race to the finishing post

By the time of my recent visit in 2023 my camera gear had changed to the Sony A6700, Sigma 18-50mm f2.8 and the Sony 70-350mm f4.5-6.3. The A6700 has animal eye auto focus and I was using the new camera for the first time to capture action. No matter which camera you use the best settings are Aperture priority and a high enough ISO to freeze the action and this last image was taken with the A6700 and Sony 70-350mm lens. 

It would be a shame if photography on the course was now restricted so check with the course before visiting.

The gallop to the first fence

Monday 11 September 2023

Sony A6700 and Sony 75-350mm f4.5-6.3 G OSS Lens

 I've been a Sony camera user ever since the company bought Minolta and the A mount system about 15 years ago. In fact my first camera was the Sony F717 some 2 years earlier and the decision to upgrade to the Minolta 5D (my first DSLR) was due to their camera's in body stabilisation. It seemed innovative at the time and it made sense. Instead of purchasing lenses with in body stabilisation at a premium price, every lens that you mounted onto the Minolta was stabilised and Sony were very clever when they bought the A mount and that technology.

Since buying the Minolta 5D it's been Sony all of the way for me because they are innovators and I've gone through a number of camera upgrades over the years from the Sony A700 A mount camera to the Sony A7mk2 E mount camera to the Sony A6400 E mount camera which I've owned since 2018. 

The Sony A6400 has been a very capable camera but there have been a few features from my previous cameras that I've missed such as the in body stabilisation and a fully articulated screen which is needed for low level shooting as I get older. I currently own three very good lenses which aren't stabilised and low light shooting can mean either boosting the ISO with the resulting additional noise or using a tripod. 

In recent years I've passed on the opportunity to purchase the A6500 and A6600 cameras, both of which had in camera stabilisation, because I wanted a leap forward in technology to make upgrading from the A6400 worth the money and such a camera was launched in August 2023 with the Sony A6700.

I bought the Sony A6700 online from Park Cameras and there was a 33% discount offered on a selection of Sony lenses when bought with the camera. I've tried a number of long lenses during the Covid years and found them either too big and heavy for the compact APSC E mount cameras or the image quality wasn't quite good enough and I sent them back. 

On offer was the Sony 75-350mm f4.5-6.3 G OSS. It was released several years ago but all of the Youtube reviews give it high praise for its sharpness, fast and quiet autofocus, compact size and low weight so I bought it with the camera for a little over £500. 

What a great combination this camera and lens are. Without going through the camera's specs which are excellent my main decision to buy came down to the 5 axis in camera stabilisation, a fully articulated screen, and the dedicated AI chip for help with the autofocus. Artificial intelligence is working it's way into all aspects of our lives and it's now in the A6700. The AI chip allows the user to choose a subject for the autofocus to prioritise such as a Human, Animal / Bird, Bird, Insect and it immediately focuses on and tracks the eye, plus Car / Train and Airplane. Focus is immediate and accurate and the tracking of moving subjects is impressive. It's a huge help. No more focus hunting when the subject is surrounded by a busy background.

The Sony 75-300mm also focuses at the 350mm length as close as 4' 9" distance from the subject and combined with the A6700 I'm now able to focus on and track moving insects on flowers without scaring them away. Very handy for my flower photography. 

The test images below were all taken with the Sony A6700 and Sony 75-350 lens at the 350mm focal length at f6.3 with the subject chosen on the AI chip. They are straight out of camera with a small crop for compositional purposes. All were shot in JPEG as my software won't yet recognise the cameras RAW images and the insects were shot at around 5 feet distance from the camera. I expect even better results from the RAW files when DXO Photolab is updated.

To say I'm delighted with this camera and lens combination is an understatement. I've only had them for two weeks but I've now got a camera that will keep me shooting for many years ahead. In fact due to my age it's likely to be my last camera. Happy shooting everyone.

Tuesday 11 April 2023

Wirral Open Studio Tour 2023

 I've been a supporter of the Wirral Open Studio Tour (WOST) for several years as it's an important showcase for artistic talent on the Wirral Peninsula. I took part in my first two tours by opening my studio at home in Saughall Massie and did the next five WOST from the Williamson Art Gallery and Museum in Oxton. 

Following a brief pause due to Covid I'm back on the tour again and I'll be opening up my beautiful garden in Girtrell Road, Saughall Massie to the public where you will have the opportunity to view and purchase my prints or to just talk photography with me.

Fibre Optic Light Painting

Accompanying me this year will be internationally renowned artist Daniel Meakin who is taking part in his first open tour having recently moved to the Wirral from Spain. In 1999 Daniel was awarded an MA in European Fine Art in Barcelona. Check out his profile and those of the other 80 artists taking part from this link to the WOST 2023

Our Studio in Girtrell Road will be open from 6pm - 9pm on Friday 9th June, 10am - 5pm on Saturday and Sunday 10 - 11th June. Thousands of tour brochures will be available to pick up throughout the Wirral or you can download your own brochure from the WOST website and start planning your tour of artists. 

Monday 10 April 2023

Milk, Oil and Paint

During the Winter months I've been experimenting with photography at home. When the nights get shorter I do light painting in the dark evenings in my spare bedroom and shoot macro during the day time. I'm a great fan of Youtube for inspiration and there are quite a few tutorials on macro photography using milk, oil and paint. 

The technique is quite simple and the abstract results are unpredictable and fascinating. A macro lens on a tripod is needed with a remote cable or trigger for the best results. Place a centimeter of full fat milk in a small glass dish. Add a small amount of olive oil or sunflower oil to a cup and mix up some colours of acrylic paint individually with some water to make a solution. Pour two or three colours of paint into the oil, give the cup a little swirl, then gently pour over the milk and watch the results form.

The mixture of milk, oil and watery paint forms a universe of coloured swirls and macro planets. Using a tooth pick you can move the bubbles of paint around to create different abstract patterns and swirls.     

For a different result get in closer to capture the picture within the picture using extension tubes if necessary. There are micro worlds to discover within the macro world.

Change your colour combinations to achieve different results. Experiment with different oil and paint solutions. Olive oil is heavier and thicker than sunflower oil and adding more water to the acrylic paint offers a different result. To stir things up a little add a dab of watery washing up liquid using a cotton bud and watch the coloured world explode and shoot the resulting chaos. 

As a project for a wet Winters day shooting milk, oil, and paint in a petri dish is fun and the results would test the painting skills of the very best artist. Now that Spring has finally arrived my focus is back to the outdoors again. 

Friday 27 January 2023

Photographing Flowers in Milk

Youtube, what a great source of knowledge. Whenever I'm stuck for inspiration for photography at home during the Winter months I turn to Youtube. I put in some search words and up pops videos containing wonderful ideas that I've never seen before. 

One such tutorial was on photographing flowers in milk. Not to be confused with photographing pregnant women or babies bathing in milk with flower floating on top, this sole video that sprung up from a totally irrelevant search term concentrated on photographing the flowers and not the models. 

The technique was to mix together a 2cm solution of water and milk so that its slightly translucent in a shallow glass dish. Placing flowers in the milky solution gives the impression that the flowers are emerging from the solution. 

I initially tried placing the dish over a light pad but the bottom light produced an ugly yellow cast in the solution so I used a white sheet of paper below instead. With the camera on a tripod directly above, a simple flashlight was used off center in the natural light of my bedroom as a fill light so as not to produce a reflection in the cameras lens. I took a series of shots changing the exposure with each shot and later chose the best image to process. The small square dish dictated the square format of the finished shot. 

I like the simplicity of the first image above but given the plain background I experimented with adding a texture and a border using Topaz Texture Effects 2. The right choice of texture gives the impression that the flowers are frozen in an ice block. 

Another example of flowers in milk without and with the same texture treatment are below. 

I later played around with adding food colouring but it just resulted in a mess. A watery acrylic paint just sank to the bottom. There must be some way of adding a splash of colour to the surface of the milky solution.

The dilemma now is which image is the best for printing to hang on a wall? It's 50/50 for me but as an experiment I think both images work. I'm now looking for some flowers with a good structure and a larger dish to shoot in portrait and landscape mode to take the technique further.            

Thursday 16 December 2021

Light Painting

I don't photograph very often during the Winter months due to the cold shortened days and family commitments. Last Winter I discovered light painting and I enjoyed spending evenings in the comfort of a darkened dining room with a camera, tripod and cable release creating images using cheap torches and a small collection of specialist light painting tools. My first attempts at light painting were at first very frustrating as I got used to the technique whilst fumbling around in the dark for the tools and accidently kicking the tripod but I ended the Winter months with some photographs that I'm proud to have taken. You can read about my first foray into light painting here.

"Hot Stuff" - Black Fibre Optic brush and yellow gel

This Winter is the second chapter of my light painting journey. I've invested in some extra tools to expand the possibilities and also to make life more efficient.    

My light painting tools

I've added a set of colour hoods, screw on colour gels, an extendable white sword all from Light Painting Brushes and liquid chalk. This Winter has been frustrating because my only model, granddaughter Bess has moved across town so I've had to be content with still life setups so far using a guitar and a violin against a black sheet.

The colour hoods have proven to be a very good investment. They simply push onto a rubber universal connector which holds any cheap torch and colour is directed towards a subject without light spillage hitting the camera sensor. 

In this case (above) several colours were used on sections of the guitar in short bursts and a white fibre optic brush with a blue screw on gel attached was used to frame the guitar. Completed in a single 90 sec exposure in a dark bedroom. No photoshopping has been done to any of the images. They're all straight out of camera with basic noise reduction, contrast and vibrancy added.

Once I'd worked out the technique, strength and timing of the torches it was a simple case of varying the composition and finish of the image using different tools and colours.

One thing that I discovered was that the guitar was constructed from a light coloured wood which took the coloured light well, whereas the violin was made from a darker wood which didn't take the colour from the hoods at all.

I'm very happy with the results using the new tools and with the Christmas holiday fast approaching I'll take a rest and work out my next light painting project for the new year. 

In the meantime I've put together a short audio / visual display entitled "An Introduction to Light Painting" with a selection of light painting photographs taken over the last 12 months. You can find it on Vimeo or from the Audio Visual Presentation page on this blog. 

Sunday 17 October 2021


 I've recently created an audio visual presentation on Vimeo entitled "Metamorphosis" which shows that adding texture layers to flower photographs can create results with an ethereal or painterly look. Adding textures to flowers can turn a straight record shot into a piece of artwork. It also allows you to hide distracting backgrounds or objects which draws the eye to the main subject. 

Aster "Small Ness"

Textured Flower
The video which is set to copyright free music shows in real time the metamorphosis from basic image to finished textured flower. Some of the finished flowers have been created using textures purchased from Kathleen Clemons website, while others have been created using my own textures. 

You will also find the video on the Audio Visual Presentations page of this blog.

Thursday 5 August 2021

Macro Flowers - An Old Dog With New Tricks

 I've had a long standing love of macro flower photography. Indeed one of the first lenses I owned when I bought my first DSLR was a Tamron 90mm f2.8 macro lens. The lens got a lot of use in 15 yrs until I sold it in exchange for the stabilised Sony FE 90mm f2.8 macro lens.

The old Tamron had no image stabilisation, and neither have any of the Sony mirrorless cameras that I've owned including the A6400 that I use today and that dictated my macro workflow when shooting flowers forcing me to use a tripod. Hand holding the camera was out of the question without greatly bumping up the ISO to get a fast enough shutter speed to get a sharp image. 

My technique was always to use a tripod with manual focus and the camera set to "Manual" mode. There was a slow process of identifying the composition that I wanted, framing the shot by moving the tripod centimeter by centimeter back and forth while at the same time adjusting the tripod ball head, manually focusing then waiting for the wind to die down or for an insect to land on the flower before shooting. 

With the f-stop chosen to get the correct depth of field and some background bokeh, when the light changed I'd adjust the shutter speed to compensate. Sometimes I'd shoot with the tripod ball head loosened off to give me some freedom when shooting. 

Because photographing flowers is best carried out in soft diffused light without harsh shadows, I bought a Lastolite Trigrip 75cm Difflector which would be held between the Sun and the flower to soften the light on bright days. With the camera on a tripod I had a free hand to hold the diffuser above the flower.

The difflector uniquely is a 1 f-stop diffuser on one side with a reflector on the other and the large plastic grip makes holding with one hand a doddle. The difflector folds up into a small round bag for carrying.

Lastolite Trigrip 75cm Difflector

This technique has given me some great results over the years but the flowers, such as the Agapanthus and Rhodochiton below, were more like record shots of flowers and there was something missing. There was no artistic merit or ethereal mood in the photographs.



Two years ago I discovered Kathleen Clemons, a wonderful flower photographer in the United States. Kathleen is a Lensbaby ambassador. She uses their lenses extensively to create an ethereal mood in camera, but she also adds textured layers to her flower photographs during post processing to create flowers with a painterly feel. 

I'm not fond of Lensbaby lenses but I purchased her E-book tutorial and some of her textures and started to recreate my own macro flower art using the back catalogue of flower record shots that I've taken for years.


Echinops with Texture

Nectaroscordum with Texture

Autumn Crocus with Texture

This has given my old photographs a new lease of life. I've been taking macro photographs and adding textures ever since, but I've not been able to produce ethereal looking flower images straight out of camera until I discovered Dirk Ercken last month. 

Dirk is able to achieve a beautiful dreamy ethereal look to his flower photography by shooting wide open and giving the backgrounds as much importance as the main flower of interest. I purchased his online video tutorials and I have now totally changed my macro flower shooting technique. 

I'm now shooting hand held with manual focusing in "Aperture Priority"which gives me the freedom to move around, to get in close amongst the flowers and I'm very excited by the results below. The purchase of the Sony FE 90mm f2.8 macro lens this Spring with its built in image stabilisation now gives me the opportunity to follow his technique and to shoot handheld. My photographs are no longer straight record shots and my post processing by adding textures is vastly reduced. Interesting background textures are created in camera. 






All of the above photographs are straight out of camera with minimal post processing using Dirk Echern's flower photography technique but it's left me with a problem. 

Dirk recommends using a diffuser to soften the light but when hand holding a camera and manually focusing how could I possibly hold the Lastolite Trigrip Diffuser?

After a bit of research on the internet I found the Manfrotto Super Clamp (£26 from Amazon) The Super Clamp is designed to be attached to a tripod ball head with a camera and be clamped on to a wall or rail for hands free shooting but I've adapted it to do the opposite.

Manfrotto Super Clamp mounted to a tripod ball head

The Super Clamp is available to buy with an optional pin which allows a ball head to be screwed to the flat top of the clamp but the top also has a 1/1.4" threaded hole allowing a tripod quick release plate to be fitted. This allows me to fit the clamp upside down onto the ball head so that the clamp can hold the Lastolite Trigrip Diffuser. 

Manfrotto Super Clamp holding the Lastolite Trigrip 75cm Diffuser

This works well only because of this model of diffuser's unique large plastic handle and the ball head can now be used to hold the diffuser in whatever angled position that I want, including with the center stem of the tripod in the horizontal position for extra reach with the tripod legs splayed for stability.

Hands free light diffusion on the cheap

They say that the more you shoot, the better you get at photography but you must also be open to learning and change. I've been lucky recently to find two photographers who I can learn from and I'm proof that you can teach an old dog new tricks.