#30 Tower Bridge

View of Tower Bridge showing the rings for the 2012 Olympics in London, England.

My last post was in 2010 and obviously a great many things have happened since then.  Of relevance to this blog are the fact I still have my original Canon 5D (it’s been sitting unused for some time, poor thing) and I’ve been using the Sony NEX 5 for so long I’ve forgotten just how good the 5D is.

Tonight I got chatting to a friend who just purchased a new tripod and while I don’t recall the exact conversation, I find myself searching for tips on how to take a photo of Tower Bridge.  Turns out there’s a ‘hidden’ viewing terrace from which one can get great views.

And with that I head out to find it!  It’s strange how instinctive packing a camera bag has become:  I pack a tripod, 2 batteries, spare memory cards and even some gradient ND filters…no idea if they will be useful at night :)

I wait till it’s dark enough and hope the strong winds don’t cause too much camera shake for long exposures.   I take a few shots.  A security guard shows up out of nowhere and asks if I’m a tourist.  I say yes and he goes away.  I take some more shots.  Then I pack up and go home feeling pleased that I still know how to operate the 5D.

(Oh and the Grad ND filters did come in handy – I used one to stop the bright lights of the bridge from blowing out…at least I think it helped. It’s late. Time for bed).

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#29 Red November

Leaves turn red on a tree on Hampstead Heath. North London, England.

When the leaves change colour every year it’s an amazing time.  I intended to go to the park to film some short video clips with my Sony NEX-5. Most of the trees were brown and yellow.  The weather was cold.  The ground was muddy.  However this particular tree was covered in red and stood out amongst all the others.

I took this picture with a manual focus lens (Canon FD 50mm) with the aperture almost fully open – about f/2.8 – to blur out the surroundings and isolate the leaves but keep enough of the leaves in focus.  If I had used f/1.4 less of the leaves could be seen clearly.

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#28 Transport In The Rain

A man hails a taxi in the rain in South London, England.

The idea of shooting in the rain has always appealed to me.  The reflections from the water on the ground.  People huddled under brollies. Others running for cover because they have no brolly.

Unfortunately, I’m always scared of damaging the camera!  I’ve got rain covers for my DSLRs but I rarely take them out unless I also have a tripod – not ideal for street shooting.

Now, I think I’ve found my camera of choice.

I recently got a Sony NEX5 which has a screen that tilts out and allows me to shoot at waist level.  It’s fantastically small and I’ve found it doesn’t scare people like a large DSLR with large lens does. What a difference this makes – I think this will be my new ‘street’ camera of choice.

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#27 The Tiger’s Nest


A Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Paro, Bhutan.

Taktsang Dzong or The Tiger’s Nest is a Tibetan Buddhist monastery. I hiked for 4 hours through the foothills of the Himalayan mountains to reach it. It rained on and off and the clouds sometimes covered the view completely.

For this shot I used a tripod and a very high f-stop (f/22) to get as much front to back detail as possible.  Since it was raining I also used a rain jacket for the camera which I’ll discuss further in another post!

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ND Grad filters or HDR?

I’ve often wondered how people capture dramatic skylines because every time I tried either the ground was too dark or the sky was too light (and often over exposed).  The camera just can’t capture the full range of light levels needed to get a good shot that includes both the sky and the ground (it has limited dynamic range).

Clearly it can be done…but how?  I decided to research it and here are my first results:

Turns out there are two ways:  HDR and ND Grad filters.

HDR – or High Dynamic Range – involves capturing multiple shots…one that works for the bright sky, one for the relatively darker ground and one for the mid-range that doesn’t really work for either. Afterwards, the multiple shots are combined on the computer with HDR software.  This has to be done for every shot.  You don’t need any new equipment (except for maybe a tripod if you don’t already have one).  Some of the HDR software is also free.

ND Grad – or Neutral Density Gradient - filters are pieces of glass or plastic resin that have a dark bit at the top and gradually become completely clear towards the bottom. You place them in front of the lens at the time you take the shot and it cuts down the amount of light coming from the bright sky at the top of the frame.  Good quality filters – ones that don’t colour the image artificially – are expensive.  There’s a well known brand called Lee and some of their filters can go for close to £100 each.

I really don’t like to sit in front of a computer combining multiple images so I decided to take the plunge and invest in some Neutral Density Gradient filters.  Unfortunately, no one seems to have Lee in stock (due to supply problems).  So I got some other highly rated ones from a company called HiTech.  The ones I got measure 100mm x 150mm and fit into a standard Lee filter holder (luckily a few places did have those in stock).

It’s like a whole new world for me now and I’ll definitely be taking these filters on my trip to Bhutan next week.

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#26 Child’s Play

A child sits at a piano in North London, England.

It’s been said that you should never work with animals or children.

They are messy.  They are unpredictable.

But then, they are also adorable.  How else would you get shots like this if you didn’t work with children?

The best advice I have is to let kids be themselves – the photographer then simply becomes the observer rather than director (as might be the case when working with adults).

This shot was taken during a day-in-the-life shoot with 2 children and their parents.  I bounced a flash off the white walls/ceiling to balance the daylight coming into the room.

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#25 Apple

An apple hanging from a tree in North London, England.

For the longest time I really didn’t like camera-phones.  The small sensor, the grainy results, the slow response times – sure you carry it everywhere but the image sucked and you would probably miss ‘the moment’.  Well, now I’ve changed my mind a little.  Just a little.

This shot was taken in my garden in North London with my new iPhone 4 (admittedly on a very nice summers day with lots of light).

I feel that there are areas where the mainstream camera manufacturers really do need to innovate – this iPhone has a beautiful screen (far better than any camera that I know of) GPS geo-tagging, a touchscreen display, Apps that can process the image (like the one above was edited with an app called Camera+, cost: about £1.00 !) and share it on Flickr, Twitter, Facebook, FTP (or wherever else you might want – you get the idea).

Oh, did I mention it does 720p HD video recording, editing and upload as well?

And it’s just one device.  And it does it well – the user experience is unparalleled.

I digress – this isn’t an iPhone review.

I just wonder why my DSLRs (which cost thousands) or maybe high-end compacts can’t do even some of this? And not just as a bolt-on with no afterthought to the experience.

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#24 Fresh Strawberries!

Fresh Strawberries picked from my garden in North London, England.

Last year one of the kindly neighbours gave us strawberries to plant in the garden.

Last year none grew too well – it was way too late into the season.

This year however – sweet juicy red strawberries!

There’s something about growing and eating your own food that just makes you feel great inside.

Ok, enough hippy talk. I wonder when my iPhone 4 will arrive…can’t wait to take it out for a spin with the Camera+ app!

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#23 Bath!

A Roman Bath in the City of Bath, England.

I’ve lived in the UK for over 30 years and never been to the city of Bath.

Well now I have and I think it’s great!  Decided to stay nearby overnight and head out early  - I’m told it gets very busy from all the tourists visiting.

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#22 Abandoned Car

An abandoned car in West London, England.

Last weekend I was out in West London for a meal with friends and saw this sorry sight in the local shopping mall.

Seems like it’s been there for some time with no one bothering to either remove it or claim it.

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