Sunday, 23 August 2020

Threlkeld Quarry and Mining Museum, Cumbria

The Lake District National Park in Cumbria is well known for its beautiful landscapes, picturesque lakes and green mountains. It's a year round draw for photographers from across the UK. In fact there seems to be more photographers in the National Park during the Winter months attempting to capture moody landscapes than during any other season but there's more to photography in the Lake District than landscapes.

In May 2017 I visited the Lake District with thirteen other members of Hoylake Photographic Society for a long weekend staying at the Field Study Center at Blencathra outside Keswick. On our first day at Blencathra the weather was grey with no interest at all in the sky making it unsuitable for good landscape photography. The best advice I've received from top landscape photographers over the years is, "If the sky isn't adding anything to the image then leave it out and shoot detail instead" and that's what I did.

Our group had made a list of interesting places to visit during our long weekend as each had their own photographic interests and on the list was the Threlkeld Quarry and Mining Museum which was only a few miles from our base just off the main A66 road into Keswick so a group of us decided to spend a few hours there before moving on and it proved to be a good decision. 

Opened in the 1870's to provide ballast to the railway industry the Threlkeld Quarry was closed in 1992 and it's become a museum largely run by volunteers. The extensive grounds are a home to vintage mining machinery, there's a narrow gauge steam railway, tours underground and a small museum. 

If there's one thing photographers love it's rot and decay whether it's in buildings, boats or vehicles and Threlkeld had plenty of detail to capture on a grey sky day. 



It was a good test of your photographers "eye" wandering around the derelict cranes and trucks picking out good compositions of flaking paint, cogs and rust. Two hours went by in a flash. When you're on a trip with a group who are car sharing there's always a compromise to be made and you have to move on to another location agreed by the group so time was limited. Another disadvantage of travelling as a group from the same photo society is that you're all taking the same photographs unless like me you're the only infrared photographer.

                   "Why capture what everyone else is shooting when you can shoot in infrared"

Having spent two hours photographing in colour I was told that the group were leaving in 15 minutes. I always take two cameras on a trip and I was using a Sony A6300 mirrorless and a Sony A6000 infrared converted camera. The A6000 had been permanently converted to the 590nm "Super Colour" wavelength of infrared and these shots taken at Threlkeld were captured with a B+W 0.93 infrared filter on the lens converting it to 830nm pure monochrome only infrared.



On the day the light was bright but with an overcast sky giving soft even light with no harsh shadows which was ideal for these infrared photographs. There are times when you want to highlight the strong colours in an image and there are times when the simplicity of monochrome infrared is best. Nature reclaiming these derelict machines would have been lost in a colour photograph.




When people think of infrared they envisage rolling landscapes with fluffy clouds and white foliage on trees but infrared is best when there's hard landscaping, bodies of water or inanimate objects to give contrast to the white otherwise the image can be a total white out with no focal point. Threlkeld was the perfect subject for infrared.

 


Shooting infrared in 830nm wavelength of light results in slow shutter speeds and a tripod is recommended but I didn't have much time so these were all taken hand held. Neither the A6000 or the lens had stabilisation and luckily there was no wind at all so a steady hand and controlled breathing helped to get theses sharp images. As I'd already been around the site shooting in colour I already knew the shots to get in infrared and I was able to achieve what I wanted in the 15 minutes before we moved on. It was a good start to an enjoyable weekend.

Tuesday, 21 July 2020

RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands

A month ago I bought myself a long lens (the Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary) with the intention of broadening my photography in to wildlife and sports. I'm lucky in that the Wirral Peninsula with a coastline on three sides is a haven for wildlife and there are some important protected habitats around the coast for anyone interested in bird photography. One such habitat is the RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands at Burton in South Wirral.

The wetlands are about four miles from my home and it has been a favourite location for my infrared landscape photography in the past but I've never had a lens long enough to capture the wildlife there until now so today I took the Sigma 150-600mm lens out for the day to put it through its paces. During the visit to the wetlands I also took the opportunity to sign up as a member of the RSPB.

I was warned before joining that it was the quietest time of the year for the wetlands as most of the feathered visitors arrived during the Winter months and they were true to their word. There were wild flowers, butterflies and dragonflies galore but I had the wrong lens with me for those subjects and the few ducks and geese on the water were too far away for even a 600mm lens. With the hides and some paths closed due to Covid-19 restrictions there were no real opportunities to get up close enough for photography. I met a group of twitchers who were watching a Peregrine Falcon circling around a group of geese on water in the distance but they were too small to photograph.

That's wildlife photography in a nutshell. Wildlife rarely comes out and poses for you. You have to research its behavior, be patient and have a little luck but I'm not deterred. My next visit as a new RSPB member will be with an infrared camera to capture the beauty of this site as I wait for opportunities to shoot with the long lens.

As I've no wildlife to show you from today's visit, I'll leave you with some infrared photographs that I've taken at Burton Mere Wetlands over the years. I'm lucky to have two reasons to visit in the future.

Sony A200, 720nm wavelength of infrared
Sony A200, 720nm wavelength of infrared
Sony A6000, 720nm wavelength of infrared
Sony A6000, 590nm "super colour" wavelength of infrared
Sony A6000, 590nm "super colour" wavelength of infrared

Tuesday, 14 July 2020

Going Long Again

I've been an amateur photographer for 17 years starting off with a Sony F717 bridge camera before buying my first DSLR, the Minolta5D with in body stabilisation. When I upgraded to my first Sony DSLR (Sony A700) I purchased a Sigma 170-500 f5-6.3 super zoom lens. It had no stabilisation which wasn't a problem as the A700 was stabilised and the performance was average but I wasn't a competitive club photographer in those days and used it to capture air shows and some wildlife simply for my own pleasure. 

The big drawback was the size and weight of the lens as it wouldn't fit in my camera bag so after a year I sold it and bought the more practical Sony 70-300 f4.5-5.6 SSM. I was heavily into macro flower photography at that time and this new lens was wonderfully sharp with fast auto focus and the minimum focus distance of around 3 feet made it ideal for flower photography and indeed some of my best flower photographs have been taken with this lens.

Sony 70-300 f4.5-5.6 SSM

Switching camera systems is always stressful and expensive. Sony started putting all of their R&D into their new E mount mirrorless system and their A mount was being neglected so I made the difficult decision and switched to the E mount mirrorless system to be future proof. I sold the A700 and all of my A mount lenses bar the Tamron 90mm f2.8 macro and purchased a Sony A7mk2 and 70-200mm f4 lens. It's a terrific lens but the focal length of my photography was getting shorter every year and I missed the longer length in my lens line up. The problem was there was nothing longer in the E mount for years.

The Covid-19 lock down has given me the chance to think about my photography and it's future direction. I've only been photographing flowers in my garden for the past three months and I felt that I needed to broaden my range of photography to wildlife, nature and sport once the virus has receded and life has got back to some sort of normality. That meant purchasing another super zoom lens.

It's taken a long time for Sony and third party lens makers Sigma and Tamron to supply a good range of lenses for the Sony E mount. Wide angle primes and mid range zooms dominate the lens line up. Sony had brought out the Sony 100-400 (£2,300) but the super zoom range was sadly missing. 

This Spring Sony released the Sony 200-600 f5.6-6.3 G lens (£1,700) to fantastic reviews but when searching Youtube for reviews I stumbled across videos testing the Sigma 150-600 f5.6-6.3 Contemporary lens with the Sigma MC11 (Canon EF - E mount) adapter on E mount mirrorless cameras. My camera is the Sony A6400 APSC mirrorless camera.

The reviews on the Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary lens were excellent for a lens priced at only £749. The MC11 adapter brought the package to £970 and my choice of super zoom lens to buy was made. Is the Sony 200-600 mm a better lens? Yes it is, but for an occasional wildlife photographer like myself the financial saving is significant. 

During testing I've found the Sigma 150-600mm auto focus to be quick and accurate and the images to be sharp if you understand the limits of shooting hand held at 600mm (900mm on my APSC crop sensor camera) There are also two custom mode settings for the auto focus and stabilisation. These can be set to your preferences depending on your type of shooting using the Sigma USB dock which I've also purchased.

Below are my first test shots using my new lens. They were all taken hand held from 150 - 600mm and have had minimal processing. When you consider that the 600mm range is a whopping 900mm on my APSC camera, I'm extremely happy with the image quality and I have a few candidates for club competition through testing alone. 

Hand Held 600mm, ISO400, f6.3, 1/1600 sec

Hand Held, 172mm, ISO1600, f6.3, 1/1600 sec

Hand Held, 150mm, ISO400, f8, 1/2000 sec

Hand Held, 600mm, ISO400, f8, 1/2000 sec

At the moment we're still in semi lock down. Sports are only just re-starting again while many nature reserves are still closed. I'm looking forward to the challenge of wildlife and sports photography that I've been neglecting over the years. It should be fun.

Adendum: Two weeks after purchasing a Canon version of the Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary, Sigma released their first zoom lens for the Sony E mount system and not before time. The Sigma 100-400mm f5-6.3 (£899) is getting excellent reviews on Youtube. Tamron are sure to follow soon.

Friday, 26 June 2020

Lock Down Flowers

It's been a very frustrating 2020 for many Wirral photographers. The New Year brought a constant string of Atlantic storms which hit the coastline hard where I live testing only the bravest of photographers resolve. As soon as Spring arrived, the storms receded and we were hit with a virus from the Far East in the form of Covid-19. 

Of course the virus has caused the closure of every public garden, sporting and social event and has restricted our movements to essential travel only which has been equally frustrating. Wales has closed it's border preventing any landscape photography in the Snowdonia National Park which is only a 2 hours drive away.

As I'm in a vulnerable category for Covid-19 infection due to my age, I've taken the UK Government's lock down advise seriously and diligently to protect the NHS and only ventured out briefly to walk our dog and to shop. For that reason I've had to be content with photographing flowers in my garden as they've emerged in the warm Spring weather.

Tradescantia
Tradescantia

My garden has been given a major makeover which starting last Autumn with the division of established perennials. The work has continued this year with the felling of an ailing tree at the bottom of the garden to let in more light to give existing plants a chance to grow. With more ground water and food available this area has been extensively re-planted with shrubs and woodland plants giving me more subjects to photograph during the year. With nowhere to go the work has taken up most of my free lock down time.

Iris
Iris

I spent the Winter months creating my own textures to use in the post processing of the flowers and I use them whenever one fits the subject as in the Iris above but there are times when I have to resort to using the excellent textures of Kathleen Clemons to get the painterly effect that I love and which is a feature of her beautiful photography. Putting the right texture and flower subject together is the most difficult part of creating textured flowers. 

Arum Lily

As Spring changes into Summer I'm finding new subjects to photograph in the garden almost every day but I'm impatient for the re-opening of my local gardens at Ness Botanic Gardens on the Wirral Peninsula and Bodnant Gardens in Conwy, Wales in July. The seasons are brief and flowers need to be photographed in their peak condition. Miss a week and flowers can quickly go over resulting in a missed opportunity for another 12 months. My aim during the second half of 2020 when released from Covid lock down will be to capture enough quality flower images to keep me busy post processing during the long dark Winter months.

Wednesday, 3 June 2020

Journey Through My Garden In Infrared

I've been a digital infrared photographer for 15 years and for most of those years the cameras that I've had converted have had the ability to record infrared video but the record button has never been touched. It's not that I'm adverse to shooting video, it's just that I concentrated all of my time to learning how to get the best results from infrared stills.

Before taking up photography 15 years ago my family had to get used to having a Canon camcorder following them around on family days out, holidays and during Christmas. We look back on those short presentations of my two girls growing up from 5 yrs old to teenagers and wonder where the time has gone. Shot on Hi8 tape on "Auto" with wind noise from the built in "Mic" and the background click, click of the auto focus, those short cheesy presentation always bring a smile to our faces no matter how many times they've been viewed.

Photography records a split second moment in time and the results when done well can be very powerful, whereas video records a persons personality and character, the way they walked, spoke and laughed, their interactions with others as well as the clothes they wore and their surroundings.

For Christmas 2019 I bought myself a DJI Ronin SC gimbal to steady my Sony A6400 colour camera with the intention of shooting family videos again of my grandchildren growing up, but this time in 1080p HD and 4k video. For audio I bought a Rode external mic and a dead cat remembering how the wind noise and auto focus noise of old would ruin the finished masterpiece. The full days footage of our extended family's Christmas Day was reduced down to a 10 minute cheesy presentation in HD and is preserved for posterity for my grandchildren to look back on when they're adults.

For a few years I've been thinking of trying some short videos shot in infrared spurred on by watching some excellent footage on Vimeo. The purchase of the gimbal coupled with the right weather conditions this Spring gave me the opportunity to experiment with the 1080p HD video quality of my Sony A6000 720nm wavelength converted camera. Wanting to shoot video in pure monochrome I added a B+W 0.93 filter to the lens allowing me to record in the 830nm wavelength of pure monochrome infrared. 

The finished test video "Journey Through My Garden In Infrared" was shot during the Coronavirus lock down and is available to view on Vimeo. The video is just over 2 minutes long. I'm certainly not a talented videographer and it's difficult to make a trip through my garden look interesting but I'm very pleased with this test of image quality and sharpness of 830nm video. 

The captured footage was processed using Corel Videostudio Ultimate 2020 and the naff music came bundled with the software. The footage in the finished video was recorded at 50fps allowing me to slow down the speed to 25fps and the contrast has been enhanced. Apart from those simple adjustments it was a case of cutting and pasting footage together with transitions linking them together. I'm encouraged enough by the results to find a more interesting and challenging project, perhaps street video, once the Coronavirus crisis is over and Great Britain starts to get back to normal. 

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Faux Colour Infrared Using Nik Viveza

I've been photographing in digital infrared for 14 years starting with the Sony F717 and an R72 filter progressing to permanently modified Sony A6000 mirrorless cameras in the 720nm standard and 590nm super colour wavelengths of light.

The 720nm standard wavelength of light (being on the edge of the colour spectrum of light visible to the human eye) captures some weak colour in the red and blue colour channels which you can use for faux colour infrared images. The standard practice for faux colour infrared photography has always been to swap the red and blue colours using the "channel mixer" to give your image a blue sky.

Birkenhead Park Boathouse - 720nm infrared channel swapped

The 590nm super colour wavelength of light is closer to the colour spectrum giving you a mix of the colour spectrum and infrared light. As an infrared photographer this gives you more creative options for coloured infrared as you now have some colour in the Red, Yellow, Blue and Cyan channels. You can swap colour channels as before and adjust the hue and saturation of each colour individually to produce a psychedelic world of faux colour.

Bodnant Hall, Wales - 590nm infrared channel swapped

Bodnant Gardens Terrace - 590nm super colour infrared

As you can see from the images above taken with a Sony A6000 720nm standard infrared camera and a Sony A6000 590nm super colour infrared, the latter captures more colour to play with in post production. Can you go further? Yes you can.

Nik Viveza

Last year I stumbled on a Youtube tutorial hosted by the Master of infrared photography Mark Hilliard in the United States on creating faux colour infrared images using Nik Viveza 2. The technique allows you to use the software's U-point technology to selectively colour foliage. Place a control point on the foliage of a tree and you can change the hue, saturation, warmth, brightness to colour the foliage in pastel shades. It works with all wavelengths of infrared except 830nm pure infrared which has no colour recorded in the image to be used by Viveza.

Birkenhead Park Boathouse - 720nm infrared processed using Nik Vivessa2
The photograph above is a standard 720nm infrared image, channel swapped to produce a blue sky and finished using Nik Viveza 2 to selectively colour the foliage. This technique gives the photographer far more options in this wavelength. However, the 590nm super colour wavelength produces far more dramatic results as it has more colour recorded in the infrared image and you can be as bold or as subtle as you wish.

Biddulph Grange - 590nm infrared processed using Nik Vivessa 2
I've only just got started in post processing infrared images using Nik Vivessa 2. The reason I love infrared photography is that it challenges you to push the boundaries and be creative from faux colour to monochrome fine art photography in 830nm pure infrared.