Sunday, 10 July 2011

Photograph editing and ethics

When I started my photography I was at college where I largely learnt using black & white and in the darkroom, developing and printing my own photographs.  During that process you could change the images at the development stage or during the printing such as by dodging and burning.  Nowadays most people are using digital – gone are the darkrooms with the chemicals and enlargers, replaced instead by computers and software like Photoshop.  Although many shoot digital in JPEG straight from the camera, lots of people, including myself, shoot RAW which means there is some ‘processing’ needed using software to get the final image. 

‘A Picture Never Lies’

Having briefly flirted with the idea of becoming a photojournalist (when I was younger and idealistic), this phrase ‘a picture never lies’ was around, and was probably more truer then in the days of film, but now you never quite know what you’re getting, with some skills at using a software package like Paintshop Photo Pro and Photoshop you can completely change an image.

On a recent visit to the Farne Islands I took a large number of pictures in RAW.  This was my first photographic visit to the islands and I had seen so many amazing images but most of these were taken in sunshine with lovely blue sky backdrops.  When I got there it became overcast and so had boring, dull grey backgrounds making the images that more poorer for it which got me thinking, and so the idea for this post.

The first image of the Puffin below is the original converted RAW file with no changes.  The second I added blue sky, the way I would have liked it to have been on the day, but because the left wing tips were also ‘clipped’ I also added these, showing what can be done.  I think if you didn’t know, I could have ‘got away’ with this and my skills aren’t particularly expert so you can imagine what could be done.


I am someone who believes in getting as much as possible right in the camera on the day.  The above image was given exposure compensation to try and prevent a silhouette , when it came to processing it, I adjusted levels, a bit more fill in the shadows, colour saturation and sharpening.  I’ve noticed on the Mk III it needs this more sharpening than what I’ve been previously used to. Normally, with the exception of noise reduction if needed and slight, occasional cropping for aesthetics, that would be it.

I don’t think there is anything wrong in doing those basics – our eyes see differently from what the camera does and all I try and do is recreate what I remember seeing – this is especially true of landscapes – however, I would not have normally made these other changes as this was not the way it was originally and adding the wing tips?  Well, part of my enjoyment in photographing, in particularly wildlife, is my own skills and abilities, so I would be cheating myself if I was to accept this and would normally throw out any image that cropped off part of the subject.

The Fox image below is a photograph I have used but I have made some slight changes in this if you can see where.  The top one is the final image.


The changes made? The grass stem across the Foxes eye was cloned out and, although I don’t remember originally doing it or why, a twig crossing the tail.  Was it ok to do this or should I left it exactly as it was?  Apart from that the usual changes were made – sharpening and adjusting levels – no cropping or anything else was needed.

Below is a photograph of a Rabbit I took earlier this year.  This time only sharpening and levels.  (Right original)  I did find that large brown stem just to the right very distracting and would have been tempting (and easy enough) to have cloned it out but then when do you draw the line?


In using RAW, you’re expected to make some changes as the camera captures the very basic images and so would look very flat and soft without it.  When you shoot JPEG, the camera processes everything for you, hence the styles you can choose, adding saturation, sharpening, contrast, etc.

I’m glad I learnt my photography when and the way I did and with my parents old camera which was completely manual, even the focusing had to be guessed!  It’s just my opinion, but I don’t think that many people learn photography any more, just how to use the camera which isn’t necessarily the same thing as the camera will often do everything for you.  Not that this is a bad thing, it opens photography up to more people who would otherwise be put off with the technical side.  However, digital photography does make it more open to making changes to the image, but it is just another form of art so I guess it’s down to individual interpretation as to how far you go and what is ok.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Enjoying the Sun

With the weather forecasted as being cloudy with thundery showers I kitted myself up for some atmospheric landscape images and left early this morning. I really must stop taking any notice of the weather forecast – it was a dry, sunny morning, no rain or dark moody clouds for that inspirational image!  I decided then to make the most of the sun on the last day of my holiday.  Enjoying the warmth and the sounds of Skylarks and Warblers, I noticed in the long grass in the distance a moving shape of some ears, poking up briefly followed by the slinking shape of a Fox moving across from me.
Unfortunately I hadn’t packed my long lens, only bringing my 400 in the off chance and I had just, last week, lost my teleconverter so was unable to fill the frame, not that it would have made a difference, the Fox was hidden in the long summer grass and only got a glimpse when it stopped to raise its head or moved into a less overgrown spot.

Image left, can barely see the head & right just the foxes back moving on


After the Fox disappeared into the undergrowth, I was about to move off when a second, third, fourth and a fifth Fox appeared – a family of a male and female with at least three large cubs which then stopped tantalisingly in front of me, a distance away, two far away to get decent pictures with the 400 lens but also mostly hidden by the grass making focusing difficult which I had to do manually and pre guess where I thought they would pop up briefly. 

The images below are not technically good due to the focusing problems and cropping.  If only I had my long lens and converter!


Fox cubs playing with a plastic bag!


Tuesday, 5 July 2011

The hunt for Red Squirrels

SMP_0042Anyone living in the UK will know that the indigenous Red Squirrel is being taken over by the North American Grey since its introduction in the mid 19th century which isn’t going down well for most people.

Up until around 7 years ago the Red could still be seen in the Tyneside area but now they’re all but gone.

One of the last areas they can still be seen is Northumberland, so with one of the few remain good weather days of my holiday forecasted, I headed up to Plessey Woods in the hope to get a glimpse of this elusive squirrel and brought along my photography equipment just in case.

SMP_0044It was my first time here and had really no clue where I was going so just wondered around looking for signs to show they were still here.  I used to watch them when I was younger locally and the best clue to their presence was the remains of eaten pine cones or better yet, listening for them eating the pine cones in the trees and watching bits of the cones falling down.

It wasn’t long before I came across both of these but couldn’t see the Squirrels themselves although they were obviously up there in the tree.  It’s amazing how easily they can blend and hide within a pine tree despites its lack of foliage.

Eventually, success as I came across my first Red which I had surprised low down on a tree trunk.  Grey Squirrels if you surprise them will shoot up a tree and you probably wont see them again.  Reds seem more curious.  They will go so far up then stop and watch you, often making a chattering scolding sound as this one did.  I brought along some hazel nuts in the hope to tempt them down.  Another difference between the two I’ve found is, although curious, Reds are also wary and unlike Greys, are not so easily tempted by food.  This one certainly wasn’t – it just sat up in the tree waiting me out which of course it succeeded in doing, so I moved on.


The day wasn’t a lost cause though, as after a lot of patience I came across a number of other Reds and despite the dull light, I upped the cameras ISO to 6400 as I was hand holding the lens, trying to freeze the action as they nimbly moved around the trees and branches.  Luckily their curiosity meant they would ever so often stop to look – the focusing had to be manual due to the foliage getting in the way and I had to be quick, but I did manage to get a few images.


Some from today

A quick walk today didn’t really come up with much, though I’m going to have to take a day out some time to dedicate to trying my hand at macro photography as hand holding and trying to get sharp images isn’t really working too well.


The Reed Bunting below was merrily sing away in some reeds but I was unable to get any closer and unfortunately I’ve managed to loose my ‘can’t be without’ x1.4 converter, so as a result', do the next best thing and take a photograph showing the bird in its environment.


Sunday, 3 July 2011

Friday, 1 July 2011

Sea birds in flight

DSCN0158Not really being much of an expert of photographing birds in flight and after my recent trip to the Farne Islands, I thought I’d get a bit of practice in today at Marsden Rock off the coast of South Shields.

At this time of year there is a lot of nesting birds on and around this outcrop – Fulmars, various Gulls, Crows and Cormorants and with the sun shining and a light breeze, it was ideal conditions.

This is definitely a skill that needs a lot of practice, not just knowing the cameras focusing settings, exposures and lens techniques, but also knowing how the subject would behave. For the latter I realised the birds nearest to me were following a similar flight pattern and I positioned myself in a gap on the cliffs.

Shooting down onto the birds made for a nicer backdrop and a more interesting view, unfortunately the mixed background and brief view of them as they flew below my view, (and not helped by their sudden twisting and turning) made for difficult focusing.

After an hour and a half my images were getting better with my experience, however, hand holding a 500mm lens for that length of time meant my arms and wrist were aching and towards the end the ‘hit rate’ went down as a result.  Managed to get a few decent ones and will give it a bit more practice.