Category Archives: Art


Pet hate – insensitive HDR

I occasionally use multiple images stacked to balance exposures in HDR. Not particularly either a “Nikon or Leica” thing (I shoot on both), but it is a well used process in landscape and architectural work.

That said, I have a pet hate – over processed and overblown. So I processed an image taken a while back on the Nikon D800, at Kinderdijk, in the Netherlands. 5 images in fact, bracketed. I have tried to be fair on the images, by correcting some obvious colour and contrast issues, but I wanted to see how the original, a “balanced HDR” and a “painterly HDR” look when compared. Photomatix Pro 5 was used, as it allows rather more fine tuning than the native HDR processing in Lightroom or Photoshop.

First, the best of the bracketed exposures, single shot, processed lightly for contrast and shadows in Lightroom. I think it looses something in the shadows, and lacks definition in the clouds.


Second, what I consider to be a fairly “balanced” HDR, limiting the contrast and colours. I used the “default” setting in Photomatix, and then finished in Lightroom. I like the way it pulls up the shadows without overdoing the clouds, though maybe a bit “artificial” in terms of the direction of the light. HDR tends to punch the shadows heavily. I left the colour pretty much as the original.


I then took down the rather exaggerated shadows in highlights in the HDR, in Lightroom. Seems more natural?

And thank you, Anu Garg for suggesting this.

Kinderdijk 4

Finally, using Photomatix’ “Painterly” mode. I actually found the result so overblown that this is dialled back a bit in Lightroom. I have to admit we see a lot of images using this setting published around the web. It’s way too much for my taste. Shadows are meant to be shadows :-)


I believe HDR is a totally valid approach, but should be used with a lot of moderation.

To me, image 3 wins.

But what do you think?

Also posted in Nikon, Photography, Photoshop Tagged , , , , , |

Portrait “Shootout” with Digital Camera Magazine

Page 1 & 2
A few weeks ago, I was happy to be included in a Shootout” on natural light portraiture, organised by Digital Camera Magazine.

Ed Heffer was the other photographer involved, and the event was orchestrated by the affable and very knowledgeable Ben Brain, Editor of the magazine. The resulting article has just been published in the November edition.

It was a lot of fun, and I learnt many new things. We were at the Holbourne Museum in Bath, and the adjoining Sydney Gardens. I decided to stick with one camera and one lens (Leica M-P, with Noctilux 50mm F/1.0). The Noctilux is a wonderful lens, with an amazing bokeh at wide apertures, but it is not the easiest to use. Still, I enjoyed both the challenge and the results.

We worked with two models, Holly and Claire.

With Holly, I was intent on getting softly lit portraits against a dark background. Perhaps because I was getting more into the swing of things, with Claire we then moved around a lot, and tried both close in portraits and full length shots.

Ben was there to help Ed and myself do better work, in particular experimenting with fill-in light from reflectors of different shades and sizes. That’s not something I have a lot of experience with, but it is definitely something I will do more of in future. Really helped soften those harsh, late afternoon shadows.

Of course, the magazine also needed to create an article which showed the readers some of the techniques we used. So we found ourselves being photographed rather a lot as well.

The magazine choose two of my close-in images to display and discuss. First, Holly. We used a silver reflector, though I think the effect is still very natural.


Then, Claire. A large silver reflector was used, which not only dealt with facial shadows but also nicely illuminated some detail in Claire’s coat.


There were other shots that I really was pleased with, too. Whilst I scouted the gardens for unusual spots, Claire really helped me to think through the poses. This also used a small white reflector on Claire’s face to soften shadows. Thanks, Ben, for holding it at quite a challenging angle!


And I cannot resist posting this. When I asked Claire to “Give me the finger”, There was a moment of “… really”? But the shot was worth it, especially given the graffiti background :-)

Here’s more on the article posted in the magazine, and a sampling of the images I took.

And here’s the full Holly and the Claire set.

Also posted in Graffiti, Leica, Lightroom, Local & Bath, Photography, Portrait, United Kingdom Tagged , , , , , , , , , |

Record Store Day – art, music and fun

Sensible Records Compilation

Music is ever-present in our home, and I am enjoying the “vinyl revival”. I have several hundred from my early days of listening to music, and adding more.

The entire vinyl experience is, to my mind, completely different to all of the other ways we listen to music today. The “large scale” of the album ensures that you first study the album artwork, read about the music and how it was made, and generally gain a better appreciation of what the music and artist are all about. The best artwork delivers an almost visceral feeling about the music. Ask anyone that grew up with or is now collecting vinyl, and they will talk about the album cover almost as much as the music. The artwork often represents a moment in one’s own history, reinforcing both the impact and the memory of the music.

Then, you don’t just press “play”. You have to physically put your chosen record on the turntable – and turn it over. So retro-manual. And once it is on the platter, if you are like me, you will find it hard to leave the room whilst it is playing. The very act of placing the record on the turntable tends to ensure that you want to listen to it all. No background Spotify, or modern-day “muzak”. Much as I love streaming services, vinyl forces you to take notice in ways that even CDs don’t.

Of course, many listeners also swear by the warmth of the vinyl sound, compared with today’s digitisation. That is maybe true, and I always just play vinyl “straight’ – mono or stereo, with no fancy surround settings. In my opinion, though, a good sound system and speakers probably do more for the music than the actual recording format, assuming that the format you chose and the mastering  is of the highest quality.

Raves from the Grave

So it was a very special pleasure to have Record Store Day with us, once again. This was founded in 2007 in the US “as a way to celebrate and spread the word about the unique culture surrounding nearly independently owned record stores”. It started in the UK in 2008. There are Record Store Day participating stores on every continent except Antarctica, apparently.

Special vinyl and CD releases and various promotional products are made exclusively for the day, and many stores host free gigs by local and international artists. Fun for all.

Raves from the Grave

We went across to Raves from the Grave, in Warminster, Wiltshire. Their other store is at nearby Frome, where on the day they had artists performing live outside the store. The staff are extremely knowledgeable, super friendly – and there is a massive collection of new and old vinyl, CDs and DVDs at both stores. Warminster carries a lot of music memorabilia, too. T-Shirts or mugs, anyone?

A music lovers paradise, in other words. The clientele is varied and all ages, and all share a common passion for music. Oh, and I love the image above as I used to have a white MR-2 – my “rave from the grave”.

It’s a kind of “brinks and mortar” Glasto …

Raves from the Grave

They had a terrific collection of Record Store Day specials – and I must admit I rather over-did the purchases. But the event is such a celebration of music, and is supporting independent retailers – so my excuse is that it is “a very good cause”.  

Special 7″ Items that took my eye included Robert Plant, The Flaming Lips, Roxy Music and Holger Czukay.  And there was a wonderful single from Johnny Marr.

Many of the major record labels produce (rather over priced) remasters of classic albums especially for the occasion.  Johnny CashBruce Springsteen, Brian Eno, John Grant and The Small Faces amongst them.

My RSD vinyls

Is this big label commercialisation some kind of “sell out”? I think not, as long as the independent retailer is making the sale, and I found this article in Pitchfork really thoughtful on the subject. I love this paragraph:

“A significant number of RSD shoppers are young people with little knowledge of vinyl records – 21-year-olds in 2015 were born at the peak of the CD-driven alt-rock boom in 1994, and even their parents grew up in the cassette and CD era. For a lot of these young music fans, vinyl records are as much “new media” as Songza or Spotify – a novel way of interacting with music that requires a bit of a learning curve.”

However, my “find of the day” was a compilation album, presented by Alocopop! on behalf of several indie labels, on Sensible Records. Not only was all the music refreshing and enjoyable, but the vinyl itself was beautifully produced in multiple, recycled colours. All limited to only 500 copies, and retailing at a fixed £10. As if that wasn’t enough, the album included a code card that allowed the free downloading of 160 tracks from the Indie labels – each label contributing about 150mb of music. A heck of a deal!

Summary and review here, on Forkster.

Sensible Record Labels

The whole experience was a wonderful confluence of music, art, photography and just old fashioned fun. If you didn’t get involved this year, please pop by your local store soon, and find out what the fuss is all about.

All images (except the Sensible album cover) taken with a  Leica M-P and Noctilux F/1.0

Also posted in Graphic design, Leica, Music, Photography Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

A wish for 2015 – Beginner’s Mind

New Year

I first posted a version of this in 2010, on mick’s leadership blog.

It still seems highly appropriate, though this time in a “photographic” context.

I got a little acquainted with Zen in the 1960’s, part of my own quest for “truth”. And whilst many other philosophies and concepts have entered my mind and been very helpful since, I have never forgotten the Zen Parable of “Beginner’s Mind“.

MusashiHere is one version:

One day an important Samurai, a man used to being in control at all times came to visit a famous Zen master. “I would like you to teach me more about Zen, to help me gain enlightenment and so become a better sword fighter.”

Zen, a philosophy of action, is inextricably linked with the Samurai Way, so the request was not that unusual.

The Zen master smiled and said nothing. Instead he motioned to discuss the matter over a cup of tea. When the ceremony was complete, the tea was served. The master poured the tea. He poured and he poured. The tea flowed over the rim and began to spill over the hand of the samurai – who jumped and dropped the cup.

The samurai was angry. “I came to be taught, and all you do is spill the tea over my hands. Can’t you see the cup is full?”

The master stopped pouring and smiled at his guest. “You are like this tea cup. You are so full of what you know that there is no room to add anything new. Come back to me when the cup is empty. Come back to me with an empty mind, a Beginner’s Mind.”

This rings so true, and is, in many ways, the key to all learning.Tea Ceremony

It has become clearer to me over the years that the more experience we have, in whatever field of endeavour, the more it’s actually harder to exercise “Beginner’s Mind”. We spend a long time learning how to use our cameras, studying how others succeed (or fail), wondering how “The Masters” did it, and seeking advice from others.

We might even develop our own signature style, and try to stick with it.

However, to be truly inventive,  just like the samurai, you need to decide what to discard to make room for new things.  Sometimes this just happens, when we “see” something new, and want to capture it a different way.

But, Louis Pasteur was right when he said that “chance favours the prepared mind”. We need to make space for the inventive, and the conscious act of thinking through what it means to us, is a great place to start. We need to “see” each picture both as a moment reflecting our own knowledge and style, and a new moment, never before seen by anyone, including ourselves.

Let’s use our existing wisdom and ideas to help others succeed, yet also find enough space to keep learning new things.

My New Year wish – may we all practice “Beginner’s Mind”.

Also posted in Photography, Poetry, Prose Tagged , , , , , , , |

Photography is writing


I just read this, written by Tom McCarthy, novelist, in Aperture 217, Winter 2014

“Perhaps in the end the difference between image and word isn’t relevant.

Because ultimately it’s all scriptural: things such as light or ink mark and are recorded on surfaces, and that’s an event of writing.

I also don’t think there is a massive categorical distinction between digital and analog photography, or digital writing on a laptop and writing on a typewriter or by hand.

We live in what Michel de Certeau calls the “scriptorium”. Everything is written. We’re within a set of networks of archiving, recording, transmitting and making visible, or hiding and eavesdropping”.

As Laurent Scheinfeld and I last night were talking about our “voice” in our photography, McCarthy’s words struck a cord. Is our “photographic voice” simply our words expressed in an image?

Views, anyone?

Also posted in Photography, Poetry, Prose, Writing Tagged , , , , |