Travelling Light (and not so light)

Grand Tetons at Night

I went on holiday to the USA in August, travelling with a small group to the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone and Glacier National Park.  As a walking and wildlife holiday what camera gear does a keen photographer take?

Lets get the honest admission out of the way – I couldn’t go to Yellowstone and not take a decent SLR and long lens just in case a great photo opportunity presented itself.  So I packed the 1D mk3 and 100-400l and 24-105l in a Lowepro Outback200 bag, which is a great bag for short walks and travel if you don’t want a backpack (which I didn’t as I had my walking pack too).  But the combination was too heavy and unbalanced for a long day walking.  But it was worth it for some of Yellowstone, and the Tetons.

Grand Prismatic Detail

But I was glad I took my (new) LX5 which proved an excellent photographic companion.  Image quality is excellent at ISO100 – holding up well on the screen (if lacking a little contrast compared with the SLR) as I filter all my images – and exhibiting good battery life – using less than 2 batteries in two weeks while taking over 600 shots.

Aspens in Jackson (LX5)

I’ve even come to like the format selection (1:1, 3:2, 4:3 or 16:9) which I thought would be a gimmick, but does help you consider different compositions and encourages you to think a little differently.

Ultimately, in Glacier National Park, I pretty much stopped using the 1D…

So I thoroughly recommend travelling light.


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Just spent the weekend camping in some ancient (ie has well established native species) woodland on the Sussex / Surrey border.  It is wonderful to spend time in real unmanaged places like that with natural wildlife (deer wander through the woods), birdsong and that wonderful dappled light.

Well it is wonderful to look at – and can be a total nightmare to photograph when there is bright sunlight (the one place where I would pay a lot for a camera with twice the dynamic range of todays SLRs).

That lovely dappled light creates extreme contrast that isn’t manageable using filters.  Of course HDR is an option today – but I’m no expert and find that it isn’t without issues as you still have to compress the larger tonal range down at some point.

The other challenge I find is turning what I see in to some form of coherent photograph.  Details do jump out at me but when I’m composing there are often other elements that are hard to exlude and fight the subject you are trying to isolate.

In the photograph above the fingers of the plan growing up the tree caught my eye, but the light behind was very bright.  In colour the brighter yellows and greens fight for my attention and draw me away from the shapes – so getting rid of the colour helps, as does the ability to more strongly darken and vignette the image to pull the eye to the shapes.

With this old Hornbeam I switched the post processing approach setting the darker tree against a lighter background.  Again I think the lack of colour helps the picture – bringing the focus on the shapes of the tree again.

What woodland does most importantly is make you work on your technique (exposure and depth of field) and composition, finding shapes and subjects in the confusion of nature.

All the images above were taken at David Plummer’s wonderful bit of woodland, Scrag Copse.  For more info see David Plummer Images and follow the goings on at Scrag Copse.

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I somehow got myself roped into judging my photographic society’s Fauna and Flora specialist subject competition on Tuesday night.  It will be the first time I’ve publicly critiqued other peoples work!

The club has some reasonable criteria, which in short are Gold (artistic and technically good), Silver (not quite gold), Bronze (technically sound but doesn’t quite work artistically), and passed by (flawed).

The challenge with nature photography is the artistic v technical challenge of taking good photographs of wild animals; if you can tell they are wild! – there’s no requirement to declare if they are or not in our comp.  I’ll probably err on the side of artistic merit as straight shots don’t do much for me unless the behaviour is remarkable or the lighting something special.

Natural History photography can be a record – sharp and clear what it is.  This has a real scientific use – but the better photography is still engaging, and tells you something about the creature or plant; where it lives, what it eats.  That’s what I strive to find; and that’s what I’ll look for on Tuesday.

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Just been musing to myself whether I have ever been totally satisfied which a picture, whether they are ever ‘finished’?

With slides it was simple – you got it right in camera and accepted the results.

Digital colour is very like Black and White – the final product is not singular and changes in time. I was taken by this when the Ansel Adams at 100 exhibition toured and had some prints made from the same negatives many years apart.

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Seasons Greetings

Wishing everyone a happy and peaceful 2011

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I was delighted to see that the image above was included amongst the splendid set of photos shown during the final BBC Autumnwatch Unsprung on Thursday!

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Just a micro-post to say how impressed I am with Tim Parkin and Joe Cornish’s venture into on-line photography magazines LandscapeGB.

Joe Cornish’s on-line commentary on image processing some of his work in Photoshop is probably worth the annual subscription alone.  The rest of the insights and interviews are definitely helpful to even the most advanced photographers.

Let’s hope its successful – it shows what the web can really achieve!

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Autumn Colours

It’s been a pretty good autumn for colours again this year, with two or three spectacular weeks at the end of October / beginning November.

Though its one of my favourite times of year, getting out and making good images I find more challenging.  The gallery above are my three favourites from this year.

There are a few things I always watch out for, based on bitter experience!

Reds.  Acer and Maple leaves (particularly those Japanese Maples in ornamental gardens) seem to have a habit of losing detail.  Shooting RAW helps give a lot of latitude to expose to the right and then bring it back again, but it seems to be a battle when trying to get that glow.

Shooting backlit leaves.  I’ll resort to spot metering the leaves if I can, digital giving the opportunity to test the exposure.   I either try to keep the sky out – or deliberately let it go ‘studio white’

Rich colours.  Best captured on a dull day (using a tripod of course!).  Low contrast days allow you to extract the detail and create the contrast later in Lightroom, Photoshop or whatever package you use to process your images.

The last challenge is trying to get decent structure out of the morass of leaves and branches!  I’ve come to like finding strong shapes in the tree branches or alternatively looking for layers or areas of contrasting colour to give my pictures some shape.

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A couple of weeks ago I went on my first trip to Tuscany, and particularly the Val d’Orcia, which must be one of the the most photogenic locations you can imagine!

Tuscany has been photographed time and time again, and so presents a real challenge to capture and present in your own way.  It’s an excellent area to photograph because the hills and open vies allow you to maintain interest right through the foreground, middle and far distance, something I struggle to achieve near home (a dawning realisation cam over me listening to Simon Roberts last week – that’s why I’m not happy with the photos near home)!


Thankfully the light always has its own way and gave us subtly different lighting each morning.  The challenge with hazy mist was low contrast, thankfully something digital allows plenty of scope to manage in colour as you would have done on a mono print in the darkroom.  I use Lightroom to catalogue and do my intial RAW processing, and make extensive use of local adjustments to exposure, contrast and clarity; it doesn’t have quite the same local control possibilities as photoshop (which definitely is the way to make the best B&W conversions).

Olives and Vines

I can’t finish a blog on Tuscany without something on the olive trees and vineyards, which carpet the hills around Montalcino.  The lovely grove above was close to Sant’Antimo, the elevated position of the road allowed the olives to give a strong foreground whilst allowing you the see the vineyard and hills beyond.

There are some great views close to the main roads around Val d’Orcia, but the best require local knowledge (we had the benefit of local knowledge!) to get off the beaten track a bit.


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Simon Roberts’ Human Landscapes

Simon Roberts, one of the most talented English photographers I’ve seen came to present to Brighton and Hove Camera Club last night on his work, which I can only really describe as human landscape photography.  I’ve included a link to his work below.

What I really liked was his approach, and the thought that went into capturing little moments in life.  He is a photojournalist – so there’s no manipulation or editing.  The photographs of Russia were taken on medium format film (easier to travel with – no battery issues in freezing temperatures) with a standard lens, the photos of England and our recent general election were shot on large format.   A lot of thought clearly went in to his artistic vision, certainly in getting the height to create the sense of depth in the photos.  I particularly like the sense of place and location his photographs have.

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