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Behind The Photo: St James Hill Norwich 24/12/2015

Location: Norwich, Norfolk, UK - Date Taken: 24/12/2015

St James Hill in Norwich near the prison is one of my favorite places to take images because it offers views overlooking the city. It is also a convenient place for me to access as I can walk from the office in about 20 minutes up the very steep and tiring hill. 

Capturing the sunset is unusual for me at this time of year as I  do not get out if the office till around 6pm while the sunsets around 4pm. As this was Christmas Eve it was a shorter working day making this image possible.

Although I have been to this spot many times taking the same view I usually come away with a different picture every time and so far this has been on of my favorites which finishes off 2015 nicely.

I really like the range of colours in this image with the purples and oranges with the rain and cloud introducing an additional element. 

My typical approach to capturing landscapes is to defiantly use a tripod or use a flat surface. This is to eliminate any camera shake that can be introduced by pressing the shutter button. 

I had used the bracketing feature of the camera to automatically take 3 images. The first one normal and then the other two as darker and then lighter to later merge into one image to HDR illuminating the whole scene. In this case I just used the one image as I think the buildings being in silhouette is more interesting and striking. 

Most of the time I have the camera set to -1 Exposure Compensation to make the picture darker then what the camera exposes for to make sure I have enough detail in the sky. Most cameras will automate taking three or more images when the self timer is active at the same time as bracketing. 

Camera Settings 

  • Camera: Fuji X-E1
  • Lens: Fuji 35mm f1.4
  • ISO: 200
  • F/8
  • 1/35 Seconds 
  • -1 EV
  • RAW File 

Edited in Adobe Lightroom 6 

Attempts at Night Sky Photography

Fuji X-E1 Samyang 12mm 30 seconds F/2 ISO 1250 outside of Watton

Photographing the night sky has been another type of photography I have been wanting to try for sometime as I enjoy learning new skills and pictures of the night sky can be quite interesting and have a wow factor.

I suspect because images of the night are more difficult to photograph in terms of being up later and patience make them not as common and therefore they get noticed more than say landscapes.  

A previous attempt using Nikon D7100 using 18-105mm F/3.5 25 Seconds ISO 3200

Like with anything it takes time to learn a new skill. While its still photography, photographing the stars requires a different approach to other genres of photography in terms of different equipment and techniques which I am still learning and acquiring more specialised equipment. 

I own two camera systems, Nikon D7100 and a Fuji X-E1 and are now a few years old and been succeeded by at least one model and they are not the latest and best equipment.

The lenses I own are not the most expensive pieces of equipment that can easily be many £1000's, thankfully I like to research my options and with looking at tutorials and reviews on equipment to see whats available at all price points.

Thankfully a lens available for the Fuji was on sale at WEX photographic secondhand department a was a Samyang 12mm f2.0 selling for £140 which I thought was a bargain being half the price of a brand new one and knew that I wanted it especially at that price making it remotely affordable. From my limited time of using the lens I have been very happy with the results when taking images of the stars and general landscape images I have taken so far.  

The general philosophy of taking images of the stars is that wider and "faster" the lens is the better. Using the 500 rule the maximum time the shutter should be open for is about 27 seconds before the stars start to blur. The image at the top was taken with an exposure time of 30 seconds but if you look closely enough the stars are starting to blur a little and next time I will try 25 seconds to eliminate this flaw. 

To work out the maximum shutter speed you divide the lens focal length by 500. The Fuji is whats called a crop sensor with a modifier of x1.5. The 12mm lens on the Fuji is actually 18mm (12x1.5=18) so 18 / 500 is 27.777.... or 25 seconds to play it safe. The micro 4/3rds have a crop factor or x2.

I am currently obsessed with this type of photography and hope to take many more if there are any clear nights which is the difficult part and also the moon.

Photographing the Night Sky

Photographing the night sky has been another genre of photography that I have not really gotten into. With the nights now getting longer it's getting increasingly accessible.  I have previously read a few articles and tutorials on how to take pictures at night and the camera settings are fairly simple.

The limiting factor in taking images of the stars in terms of camera setting is the shutter duration on how long it can stay open before the stars move and blur. The focal length alters the duration, wider the lens the longer the shutter can be open using the "500" rule equation to work it out. The math is you divide 500 by the focal length of the lens.

Using my 18-105 F/3.5 Nikon Kit lens as the example., shooting at 18mm the lens is actually 27mm taking into account the x 1.5 crop factor of my Nikon D7100 and 500 divided by 27mm is around 18 seconds which works as the above image is a 20 second exposure and using a remote trigger to activate the camera or the self timer will also work. 

Finding an location can be a challenge as you need an area with little light pollution, this tool  can be used to find a dark enough place providing there are no clouds which is another problem. 

Wex Entry: Damselflies

This weeks #WexMondays competition was take in a nearby nature reserve of Thompson Common which is owned by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust. I like this reserve mainly for fungi in the Autumn and bugs and insects at this time of year. 

I wanted to see some bigger dragonflies as I have already seen and photographed some Damselflies on the previous day at RSPB Strumpshaw Fen. However all I saw were Damselflies on the way back to the car and the odd butterfly which I were expecting to see more of.

The main thing I learned from this photoshoot is that it pays to be patient. It was only after I stood still for awhile till they started to land on the leaves to make it possible to photograph these tiny insects, and on occasions I got very close with the sigma 105mm about 15cm away from them

My technique was to set the camera at around F/16 and shutter speed at least at 1/250 seconds and manual focus with the ISO to create a good exposure being around 800. The idea was to make very slight adjustments to my body position forwards and backwards to achieve an image where I had the correct focus. With the camera set to high speed shooting I could easily take 10 images with the hope one of those would be useful, all taken in RAW mode.

Stay tuned for a video on my editing process from this trip.

Sunset At Burnham Overy Staithe

Fuji X-E1 35mm 1.4 with +/- 1 Stop 3 bracketed images. ISO 200 F/16 1/60 Sec 

This image was taken at Burnham Overy Staithe along the North Norfolk Coast on Wednesday 20th May 2015 during a week off work. Typically I focus on a theme for my photography and this time I wanted to focus on sunsets and the night sky and possibly capturing an aurora if there was an opportunity to do so.

Because the sunsets quite late this time of year around 9pm the sky does not get completely dark till midnight which for me it too late especially when I have an hours drive home and ended up just capturing a couple of sunsets during the week.

Keeping an eye on the weather forecast over the week I was looking for sunny spells conditions to see if there were an opportunity of the sun setting and clouds to create an interesting sky with the sun changing the colour of the clouds and possibly breaking through them. Weather that week was perfect for photography with storms creating interesting skies. 

My reasons for choosing this location was for a few reasons. Firstly I had not visited this part of the Norfolk Coastline before so was somewhere new to explore. Secondly it was recommended for night photography. Thirdly I wanted to visit the coast at least once on my week off.

Taken With Nikon D7100 with +/- 2 Stops 5 Images using 35mm 1.8G ISO 100 F/16 1/25 Sec 

Being warned not to park on the dirt/sandy flat further into the quayside as it floods at high tide I parked on the embankment just off the roadside. When visiting coastal areas I typically wear wellies but mine turned out to be useless with one of them being split which meant I had to be more careful to avoiding ending up with wet feet. 

I soon started to walk along the coastal path which I assumes leads to the beach. While walking along I am constantly looking all around to find potential images such as boats and the general shapes and curves of the landscape and taking test shots to see what is possible. At this point the tide was out and all the boats were sitting on the sand, not researching the tide times I had no idea on what the conditions will be once the sun would start to set. 

One thing I have learned in photography is that once you have found something of interest it's best to stay in one spot. Sunrise and sunset is so short you have very little time to set up to be ready for the show which is why I arrived early. It is better to come away with one good image than nothing because you were rushing around.

While waiting for the sun to set I was previewing different angles along the bank of the waterway,moving in either direction avoiding any obstructions such as bushes and signs. In this case there was another smaller craft to the left which I wanted left out of the picture as their is a photographic tip of having "odds". When capturing flowers for example you want 1,3,5 flower heads, it's just one of the many photographic "rules".

Once I had framed the image in the viewfinder I locked down the camera in that position with a tripod to avoid taking a blurry image due to the camera moving. To ensure there was going to be enough information I decided to bracket the images to combine into an HDR file using Lightroom 6 which I will include a YouTube tutorial below. I find using HDR is very useful to landscape images by capturing detail in the sky and the ground. 

Using both a Nikon D7100 and Fuji X-E1 to compare the bracketing features and to see if I could live with just the Fuji to benefit from the lighter weight. The Nikon has much better bracketing features with taking upto 5 images with +/- 2 stops or 3 images with +/- 3 stops in quick succession with the camera in timer mode.

The Fuji can only take 3 images +/- 1 stop which for me limits its use for HDR, however the 35mm lens for the Fuji is the best lens I own over the Nikon and Fuji so I try and use that where I can. Taking bracketed images with the Fuji is certainly possible and I use it all the time but I cannot see why Fuji is less advanced, maybe the newer Fuji cameras are better? 

Using Lightroom 6 I merged the files using the new inbuilt HDR feature which now avoids the interaction with Photoshop which is handy. Using a similar method to the below YouTube tutorial I eventually achieved these results which I think produced interesting images that I am happy with making my trip out worthwhile.

The top image was entered into the Wex Photographic weekly competition held on Twitter by Tweeting an image taken the previous week to #WexMondays which I occasionally participate in with the hope I could win a voucher, most of their entries by other photographers are simply stunning and I have little chance. If anything I enter images to help increase my twitter following and drive traffic to this blog to help promote my work. Wex have requested I write up my experience in taking this image by explaining my process and giving it difficulty rating out of 10. 

Fuji X-E1 35mm 1.4 ISO 200 F/5.6 1/240 Sec, a Single image not HDR to capture the person.

Asking myself on how difficult it was to capture this image and give out difficulty rating seems to be a simple request but It's actually quite difficult. I went out knowing on what I wanted to achieve. I know what combination of setting are needed to capture this type of image and I know the camera's limitations and why an HDR is useful in this situation. After some thought I will rate this picture with a difficulty rating of 6/10 and here is a simple checklist for taking sunset images and landscape images in general.

  1. Get there early and find something of interest to include with the sky. It can be a boat, tree or a building for example.
  2. Use a tripod to stabilize the camera as hand holding the camera will make the image blurry, or a flat surface such as a wall and trigger the camera with trigger release or self timer mode.
  3. Take test shots before the sunset to see if you're happy with the general framing and dont forget to look around the edges of the viewfinder for any unwanted branches that you don't immediately notice.
  4. HDR is not always required, a silhouette image is just as effective.
  5. Try manual mode, remember to use your lowest ISO and around F/16 then change the shutter speed to get the sky correctly exposed as auto modes will probably get it wrong.
  6. Take images in RAW mode, this is very important to capture enough information for post processing later.
  7. Practice, taking good images takes time and experience which can only improve by getting out there and taking pictures.
  8. YouTube is a great resource with tutorials on camera settings, technique and image editing to learn from.   

Castle Acre & New Toy

Recently I purchased a "Joby Gorillapod" tripod designed for a lightweight camera like my Fuji. The idea is to replace much heavier and larger tripod for urban exploring as it can fit all in one bag.

The way its used is by attaching the tripod on railings, lamp posts or just simply walls to add stability to the camera which is essential for photographing sunsets and city skylines. 

A few days ago I was out exploring a nearby field which reportedly was growing yellow and red flowers but it turned out to be too far away from the roadside to be any good.

I then decided to travel to Castle Acre to capture the sunset from a viewpoint I discovered a couple weeks earlier and made a point to use my new "toy" which worked well and kept its position while I changed the dials to manually take images with different exposures to merge into HDR later. 

When I next visit London I shall only be taking this smaller tripod. It should also work well in woodland, however in the countryside I can see it being less useful for landscapes. 

Frosty Reedham Walk

Last Sunday along with a few people from the camera club we ventured out to Reedham, a small village along the Norfolk Broads near Acle. It was an early start with the alarm set for 6am. Not a huge issue as I get up at 6am daily for work. 

It was truly a winters morning with the temperature being -2 and I certainly noticed it while getting the car ready by scraping off the ice and with the door handles being difficult to use. Took sometime to pick up some of the group due to the roads not being gritted which made driving very challenging, luckily the car only slipped once. We soon arrived at Reedham and parked along the free parking by the boat moorings and meetup with the fourth individual for the walk.

I packed both my Nikon D7100 and the Fuji X-E1. As the walk was estimated to be about 5 miles I wanted to avoid the mistake I made while seeing the seals at Blakeney by not carrying any equipment I do not need and keep the weight to a minimum. Emptied the camera bag the previous night and repacked it with both cameras with the 18-105mm lens attached and 105mm macro which I almost left behind and some accessories that I keep in an old pencil case (usefull to keep small items together). 

With the temperature being so cold the landscape was frozen solid, including the still water on the broads. Walking was effortless as the earth pathways was like walking on concrete, a complete contrast to walking on sand a few weeks ago along Cley beach for the seal trip.

Who pinned up that high vis? ruins any pictures and not worth the effort removing it

The landmark we was going to see was Limpenhoe Drainage Mill built in 1831 that was built to drain the surrounding farmland. The windmill is derelict and is slowly decaying, however it was noticed a new door has been installed since one of the group had last visited a few years ago. A high vis jacket is placed right in the middle of the opening making any images of the mill itself worthless which is a shame.

I found the walk itself far more interesting than the mill we were going to see. Being up so early had the full advantage of the weather with the sun not melting away the frost which added to the interest of the landscape and objects. The sky was very clear, clean and crisp which made photographing such a pleasure, it was the most fun ive had in a long time. The quality of the light available was excellent which produced a variety of interesting images and strong colours.

Photographing landscapes is typically best either early in the morning or in the afternoon due to the position of the sun which changes colour and the sun rises and sets. The difficulty is getting up early enough to travel to a location, especially on a Sunday. This trip has given me the inspiration to make more of an effort to get out and explore more, especially in the morning. 

As I have recently discovered, exploring in the winter is fun and interesting with the colder weather creating a different feel to images. 

I hardly used the Fuji due to still getting used to the controls as I have yet to master the bracketing functions to create HDR images which I do when creating landscape images. Also the Nikon controls are easier to use while wearing gloves and i've yet to own a lens that is wide enough for landscapes for the Fuji.   

Follow me on TwitterFacebook, Google+ and Flickr to keep upto date of my travels. 

My Fuji X-E1

On Boxing day I went into the John Lewis store in the Outlet Mall in Swindon. This store, like many high street shops in this shopping center sells end of line or damaged stock, I quickly went over to the glass cabinet that displays various cameras.

Soon spotted a Fuji X-E1 and a 35mm 1.4 lens that had been discounted, The retail assistant suggested these were returned and therefore not sold at full price, both sold separately. Costing £237 for the body and £286 for the lens which is cheaper than second hand stock at London Camera Exchange, effectively buying brand new equipment with no missing parts at second hand prices. The X-E1 launched in September 2012 is an older model that has been replaced by the X-E2 and I would assume the X-E3 is not far behind.

I have been reading and watching reviews of the Fuji mirrorless lineup for sometime and only been hearing good things about them. The advantage of using this camera over my Nikon D7100 is a much smaller and lighter camera. The Fuji is not suited to fast action photography such as wildlife and sport, neither of which I photograph often and not an issue. I will still use the D7100 for my macro photography and where I need the more reliable auto focus in dark environments.

I Intend to use this camera in situations where I do not need my bigger and heavier D7100 such as family events and general exploring. The Fuji 10-24mm lens has jumped to the top of my wish list which is more suited to landscapes and architecture unfortunately it costs over £600 and it will be awhile before my budget allows for it. 

A feature that I just love is the inbuilt flash unit where you can "bounce" the flash light by moving the flash head with a finger while taking a picture that removed the shadow behind the subject which produced a more professional image.  To take a similar image with my Nikon D7100 I would need to use my flash unit that adds extra weight and cost more than the Fuji camera itself. 

From a couple of days use so far I have been impressed with the results. The image quality coming out of the smaller camera is just as good as the Nikon D7100 and the images are very sharp based on the image of the kitten (Click to enlarge).  I plan to have a lot of fun with this camera and I will share the results on this blog.