Thursday, 19 January 2012

My 10 of the Best of 2011

Finally got round to compiling my first 'Best of' list. Hopefully this will be enjoyable for you as much as it is for me a way of assessing what I've done and seeing if any new patterns or styles have come forward over previous years.

Well, here we go, in reverse order...

Primrose Hill at Night
This was taken in the autumn, the clouds were advancing quickly across the sky, accentuated by this long-exposure shot (30 secs). This was a difficult shot to take, as even the slightest wind caused vibrations through the tripod, resulting in a slight blurring of the image. This was also one of my early attempts at night cityscapes.

Picadilly Rain
This was an experimental shot, when out-and-about in a rainy Picadilly, London. The puddles were perfect for reflecting the silhuettes of passers-by. The amount of light and neon was dazzling. As a final touch I rotated the image 180 degrees.

Eiffel Tower
An unusual angle in this photo, but I was drawn by the arcs and curves of the architecture of the tower.

Takeout Mopeds (Chalk Farm Road)
A local walk-about for me. Camden Lock is literally down the road and a great area for just having a play with the camera. This appeals to me because it's such a simple subject yet made to look less ordinary. It was very early and so no-one was about. These mopeds are outdoor benches for an adjacent takeout bar, one of hundreds in Camden Market.

Chalk Farm Sunrise (Roundhouse)
Another local landmark: the Roundhouse, framed by the iron girders of the Regent's Park Road Bridge in Primrose Hill. My instinct was completely desaturate the image to monochrome. This image for me evokes the vernacular urban scenes of Sixties London and I suspect that this view has not changed much in those 40 years.

Celebration Cake
I can't take any credit for producing this delicious birthday cake (courtesy @cake_butterfly), which was baked for a friend. However, it was an opportunity for me to have a go at food photography. Rather than just snapping it, I set up a black cloth background and some atmospheric lighting and used quite a narrow depth of field. As this was the first time I had done anything like this, I feel it merits inclusion here.

Light streaks on Westminster Bridge
This is my first attempt at light streaks, taken as part of a photography workshop group. It taught me the basics and, while not the sharpest image I've ever produced, I feel that it was a good first effort at this technique. I have since tried this style in other spots in London and I'm keen to experiment further in more suburban and "scenic" locations in the future.

London Eye at Christmas
This was the first time I had my Gorillapod with me - a great little minipod that is handy to have in busy and small areas. With it being festive too, it adds a a bit of magic to the composition. The long exposure techniques I had learnt earlier were also employed here.

Another long-exposure shot, this was at 20 seconds. The Carousel starts to resemble a spinning top, as the light colour fuses. An expected element to the image is the figure in the centre, who passes by briefly leaving a ghostly form. The wind was noticeable at times and some elements such as the small trees are noticeably blurry. Again, this as a first-time in trying this kind of subject matter.

Sunrise eclipsing the Shard
Okay, technically, this was taken in early Jan 2012 but it brings me right up to date as far as this retrospective is concerned and something of a culmination of what I had learned through 2011. I had been taking a series of shots on Primrose Hill from early dawn and so this was taken at the end of my planned shoot. It was starting to become too bright soon after this, and the scene lost some of that aura and mystique. This shot really brings out the silhouettes of the buildings and the rising steam and smoke in the cold air from office buildings. It's as close as I've got to a classic urban skyline image.

All in all, a lot of new techniques learnt. All of which I hope to build on in 2012...

Hope you enjoyed!

Monday, 16 January 2012

Dawn Photography

I recently went out on a short photo shoot on Primrose Hill, north London, very close to where I live. And with it being so close to home it was an ideal opportunity to get up early and take some dawn photos. The tempature had dropped a lot over the weekend and by Saturday morning it was quite chilly, but this also gave really clear skies.

Having got my takeaway coffee I headed off up the hill, still dark but the light was growing. I knew sunrise was at 8am, giving me half an hour or so to set up and get some pre-dawn shots in too. Primrose Hill is the best vantage point in north-central London to see spectacular views across to the City and as far as Canary Wharf and the hills of Greenwich beyond. The sky had a morning glow, tinged with a low-lying mist. There was a frost on the ground which enhanced the light. After I set up the camera and tripod, fairly close to the summit, I decided to have a quick play with the iPhone. With hands shaking slightly from the cold, I tried a HDR shot with a great app called Pro HDR. The result (below) came out pretty good:

Taken with my iPhone 4, using Pro HDR

I set the camera up (my Canon EOS 450D with the standard 18-55mm lens to get some wider shots. I found the best setting at 1600 ISO, about f20, 1/8 sec, then tried a few variations in exposure.

The City from Primrose Hill
The above image has not been retouched or enhanced but is as shot. The foreground shades of the grass and trees are more natural compared to the HDR iPhone image, but the haze is still quite marked above the skyline. I swapped lens, to my EF 70-300mm zoom, so I could get some closer shots, at similar speeds, but keeping the ISO high at 1600.

Early dawn over the City
As dawn broke, the light intensified so a much faster shutter speed was required, around 1/250 sec. The sun just peaking now over low-lying cloud. Orange became the dominant colour now.

Sunrise over St. Pauls and the Shard
 A quick lens swap to get a wider shot across London came out well. Here is one of the better ones.

Sunrise over the City
 At this time of day,  the sun tracks across incredibly quickly. I swapped lenses back over once more as the sun was eclipsed by the Shard (currently under construction but nearing completion) to produce my favourite shot of the whole morning.

Sunrise eclipsing the Shard
This shot also really brings out the silhouettes of the buildings and the rising smoke from office buildings. As the sun climbed, the light intensified and shifted further towards the blue and I felt it was time to finish up. What's more is that was really cold and I was keen to get back into the warm! On my walk I took a couple more images with the iPhone, experimenting as much as anything else. These were quite pleasing too...

Chalk Farm at Sunrise
"Made in Camden"
All the above images can be found in my Primrose Hill set on Flickr.

I would have to say that I'm lucky to be living so close to such a great location for urban landscapes such as these, but sometimes the beautiful can be found in the most unlikeliest and unexpected of places. Just look around your own neighbourhood.