Blog:                          "Weblog, online diary"

 

Photeinos/ fo-ti-nos : "light, composed of light, of a bright character, full of light, well lit"

 

Each Friday I post one of my images and reveal my reasons for taking the photograph, the capture methodology and processing involved, including some of my mistakes, and my aesthetic response to the final result. I would appreciate you engaging with me by responding to my technical and artistic choices and explaining your own reaction to the image.

 

Hire A Plane

March 17, 2017  •  1 Comment

Hire A PlaneHire A PlaneCopyrighted Digital Photograph

That’s what I usually do when I want to take vast expanse images of the U.S. landscape. If you want a tip on how to hire a plane for aerial photography, go straight to any web page for a “Cheapo” flight and ask for a window seat in economy. It works for me!

 

A Rugged Country

 

I never tire of staring out of the window on long flights. Whether it be the clouds or the earth far below, I still have a permanent sense of wonder, both at Creation in its untouched form and the incredible extent of the human imprint to be seen on it. Roads, paths and structures seem to cover the earth, with only a few miles separating the one from the other.

 

I have a very map-oriented brain and am constantly surprised and excited to identify what I see from where I guess the plane happens to be passing. This works from large-scale items such as the Grand Canyon, to individual buildings in cities viewed during landing and take-off.

   

This was a flight from Las Vegas to the U.S. East coast, so the image is somewhere over Arizona in the general area of the Grand Canyon. I regret my lack of geo-localisation capability for such images. While I have a record of the flight and its general trajectory it is often difficult to be precise about what was captured.

 

Technical

 

For such aerial photography, first of all, it also helps to have an excellent camera and secondly, excellent post-production software.

 

I took the usual precautions for commercial plane window capture: clean the inside of the window; use a short-barrelled lens, so as to get close to the Perspex; look ahead and plan any necessary camera adjustment; shoot in RAW and use as fast a speed as possible, consistent with a reasonable aperture and ISO combination, in order to eliminate aircraft vibration.

 

Given the fact that I was shooting through two layers of somewhat dirty Perspex, the real problem I had was in achieving correct colour balance in the image output. I experimented with using the grey point selection tool, but this was an iterative process, since the captured colours did not give me a good feel for where the grey point really was.

 

After levelling the horizon, the solution was to use the tint and saturation sliders until the image seemed to provide the most honest balance of colour overall. I am sometimes amazed at the capacity of a trained brain to reconstitute what the correct colour rendition might be, sometimes months or even years after tie image was originally captured. That did not help here because the image was originally photographed through the unwanted filters in the window.

 

In a situation like that, I focus on one thing that seems to be the truest representation and this was the muddy water of the river (the Colorado, I think). I hope that you think that my final solution from all these permutations is reasonably accurate.  

 

Settings

 

Camera: Nikon D800

Lens: VR 24-70mm zoom f/2.8G ED

Focal Length: 60mm

Focus Mode: AF-S

Aperture: f/8

Shutter Speed: 1/1600s

Auto Focus-Area Mode: Single

Exposure Mode: Shutter Priority

Exposure Compensation: 0 EV

Metering: Matrix

ISO Sensitivity: 640

Handheld

 

Please comment on the image or my comments. I would love to hear from you and share your thoughts with others.

 

 

Copyright Paul Grayson 2017 All Rights Reserved


How Do You Re-Image An Icon?

March 09, 2017  •  1 Comment

How Do You Re Image An IconHow Do You Re Image An Icon

Aesthetic, Aesthetic, Aesthetic

 

We have all seen this image of the Brooklyn Bridge dozens, if not hundreds of times. Whatever the angle, whatever the lighting conditions, it is the play of the lines of cables swooping around the towers which capture the attention. I pondered how to stamp my own interpretation on this beautiful piece of architecture, which is indeed a wonderful “installation” (pun intended).

 

The Spider’s Web

 

I came away with many different versions of the cable themes. Taken from the side, with and without the stonework, with and without views of the Manhattan or Brooklyn skylines.

 

I became interested in the convergence effect in the views towards the towers and shot test images with a tighter and tighter crop. This final angle was the most powerful for me, drawing the eye relentlessly in to the centre-top of the tower. The flamboyant use of vertical wires on this bridge created a part-completed steel spiders web. I surely did not want to meet the Transormers’ spidery first cousin who was weaving it!

 

Off-centre

 

In post-production, my next thought was to subconsciously irritate the viewer. Note that the centre of the perspective is slightly below the middle and to the right of the image. This is a choice, since I could perfectly well have chosen to crop with the centre point of the plunging lines being, classically, plumb in the middle.

 

It seemed to me that this positioning was slightly deranging and made me focus more intently on where the lines were going. What if it had been perfectly centred? Would there have been a release of dopamine at the pleasure of the orderliness of it all? Would it just have replicated every other view of the bridge that you have seen? What do you think?

 

Next I decided that the graphic imperative of the lines demanded a black and white treatment. This enhances the focus on the symmetry of the structure, rather than on the ambient light, which was not unattractive, since the image was taken near sunset in winter.

 

Technical

 

There were an amazing number of seagulls in the sky, which were an unwelcome distraction, as they speckled the image, like dust. These were deleted with the “heal,” tool and the image finished with some sharpening and noise reduction.

 

Settings

 

Camera: Nikon D70

Lens: 18-70mm AF-S DX zoom f/3.5 G IF-ED

Focal Length: 70mm

Focus Mode: AF-S

Aperture: f/9

Shutter Speed: 1/200s

Auto Focus-Area Mode: Single

Exposure Mode: Auto

Exposure Compensation: +1.0 EV

Metering: Centre Weighed

ISO Sensitivity: 800

Handheld

 

I hope that you too “feel” the connection of image making to time and place, as I so often do. Please take the trouble to sample other images which touch me in this way on the rest of my website.

 

Copyright Paul Grayson 2017 All Rights Reserved


Rest In Peace - Again

March 02, 2017  •  1 Comment

Resting In Peace - AgainResting In Peace - Again

I was meditatively visiting St. Paul’s Chapel in 2005, on the very edge of Ground Zero, whose wounds were then still very raw, and stepped in to the graveyard, which had been buried in debris from the adjacent towers, although the church itself miraculously escaped without a scratch. The Chapel became the 24-hour care centre for the first responders and, sadly, a means of forensic identification of many lost firemen by way of checking the owners of the daytime boots which had been hung on its railings when the firemen rushed to change into rescue gear.

 

The Chapel is the oldest surviving church building on Manhattan, having been built in 1766 and still maintains the pew where George Washington regularly worshipped, when he was serving as first President in the then capital, New York.

 

These thoughts were front and centre, when I stopped to admire a play of light and shadow on one of the tombs in the, now pristine, freshly-grassed cemetery. I captured it with my Nikon D70, the first digital camera I have ever used, and stepped forward to find out who had been laid to rest there. I marvelled to discover that it honoured a French colonel, who served America both in the Revolutionary War and who chose to return to more honourable service to the Army until he retired and ended his days in America.

 

I could not help pondering the irony of the modern death toll swamping the ancient residents of St. Pauls, followed by the immense tragedy of the following period. It was truly comforting to see the return of respectful quietness and peaceful remembering of the dead, ancient and modern.

 

Le Sieur de Rochefontaine

 

His brief bio (with thanks to Wikipedia) is:

“Stephen Rochefontaine (February 20, 1755 Ay, Marne France – January 30, 1814 New York City) …was born Étienne Nicolas Marie Béchet, Sieur de Rochefontaine.

…came to America in 1778 after failing to gain a position in the French Royal Corps of Engineers. He volunteered in General Washington's Continental Army on May 15, 1778 and was appointed captain in the Corps of Engineers on September 18, 1778. For his distinguished services at the siege of Yorktown, Rochefontaine was given the brevet rank of major by Congress…

He returned to France in 1783…, reaching the rank of colonel in the French Army. He came back to the United States in 1792 and anglicized his first name to Stephen. President Washington appointed him a civilian engineer to fortify the New England coast, in 1794.

After the new Corps of Artillerists and Engineers was organized, Washington made Rochefontaine a lieutenant colonel and commandant of the new Corps on February 26, 1795. Rochefontaine started a military school at West Point in 1795, but the building and all his equipment were burned the following year. He left the Army on May 7, 1798, and lived in New York City, where he died January 30, 1814”

 

The Aesthetic

My joy with this image arose from the very strong light on the grass, which seemed to flow from the glowing section in the front into the subtle shadows behind. The gravestone imposed itself on the viewer, almost shouting “remember me!”, I thought. The specks of seeds on its surface reflected the “from dust to dust” emphasis of the funeral service and the darkness of the sides and adjacent graves spoke of the long, dark sleep of the dead.   

 

Technical

The image was remarkably fine for a “little” sensor of an early model digital SLR. I was very happy with the original colour rendition and the image only required a little sharpening and lightening of shadows and a minor crop for my aesthetic preference to focus more on the Colonel’s tomb.

 

Settings

Camera: Nikon D70

Lens: 18-70mm AF-S DX zoom f/3.5 G IF-ED

Focal Length: 62mm

Focus Mode: AF-S

Aperture: f/8

Shutter Speed: 1/640s

Auto Focus-Area Mode: Single

Exposure Mode: Auto

Exposure Compensation: 0 EV

Metering: Spot

ISO Sensitivity: 400

Handheld

 

I hope that you too “feel” the connection of image-making to time and place, as I so often do. Please take the trouble to sample other images which touch me in this way on the rest of my website.

 

Copyright Paul Grayson 2017 All Rights Reserved

 


Magic Night

February 25, 2017  •  1 Comment

Magic NightMagic Night

The Magic

So, I had a few micro-brewery beers with a friend at La Taverne du Cluny on rue de la Harpe, almost as good, I’m sure, as the monks in the local monastery could brew back in the Dark Ages. Shouldering my trusty camera bag I stepped out into the night in the over-touristy, restaurant-cramped streets and wandered vaguely in the direction of Notre Dame, looking for a place to buy dessert.

I had no paper money left, only 8 euros and change, so I thought of ice cream. No sooner thought than “Amorino” appeared on a street sign and I headed down rue de la Huchette to buy a large cone of pistachio, so home-made that it did not have that fluorescent green colour you get with factory made wares. It even had real pistachios on top – imagine that!

Having slaked my thirst for cholesterol unfriendly fare, I ambled over to the Parvis of the Cathedral. While I watched the beautifully lit structure shimmer and dance in front of me I pondered how eerily quiet was the space, lacking the usual throngs attracted to Paris at all times of the year and at all times of day and night. As I did so, a guitarist started up a Kabyle song about his mother, a miraculous gift, given that I love the Arabic genre of music on the oud, the eastern version of the medieval lute. I was entranced. Look him up on Boudji World Music.

The Photography

 Then the passion for image-making kicked in and I tried various ways of capturing Notre Dame at night, mainly focussed on the story-telling in the stone. I then wandered over to the right bank of the Seine in front of the Town Hall, l’Hotel de Ville.

I was again working on limited “wobble prevention”, only having a monopod to support my heavy D800, but the area was quite well lit, so I captured various views of the town hall, before I became focussed on the Carrousel.

Not Doisneau

I have briefly alluded to my distaste for a certain, cheesy kind of Parisian street photography. Maybe I am somewhat insensitive, but I much prefer the unadorned (so to speak) architecture of Paris, without capturing its denizens. This image has merit in colour, given the magical creatures in their fantastical colours, but I saw it in black and white.

I also felt very satisfied with the complementary art offered by the street lamps and their circular composition, seeming to complement the carrousel itself.

Technical

 The image required very little treatment after rendering in Black & White. Only sharpening and a minor crop.

Settings

Camera: Nikon D800

Lens: VR 24-70mm zoom f/2.8G ED

Focal Length: 62mm

Focus Mode: AF-C

Aperture: f/2.8

Shutter Speed: 1/20s

Auto Focus-Area Mode: Continuous

Exposure Mode: Auto

Exposure Compensation: -1.0 EV

Metering: Spot

ISO Sensitivity: 2500

Handheld against street furniture

 

I hope that you find something of the enchantment that Paris means to me in this image. If so, please take a wander around the other images on this site.

 

Copyright Paul Grayson 2017 All Rights Reserved


Holy Island - Bourgeois Island

February 17, 2017  •  1 Comment

Holy Island - Bourgeois IslandHoly Island - Bourgeois Island

History

 

The island on which sits Notre Dame is the Medieval heart of Paris, originally separated into the western section devoted to the power of the King and an eastern section to the power of the church. The land in-between was residential and commercial.

 

This was echoed in the 19th century by, guess who, Baron Haussmann who built many key administrative structures, such as the Prefecture de Police and the Palais de Justice, among others.

 

A third epoch for the island is currently being studied by the French Presidency, which is intended to give a new life to the island, making it more attractive to visitors, by freeing up more pedestrian spaces, opening access points and creating new, sub ground-level uses which do not detract from the above-ground attractiveness of the first two periods.

 

Aesthetic

 

This view from the north focusses on the Quai des Fleurs, which is basically a 19th century construction, but includes vestiges of the presumably highly elegant, 17th century homes of the Canons of Notre Dame (see the left of the image).

 

I confess that prior to researching this piece, I had thought the elegant homes to be 200 years older, dating to the 17th century. They are more varied in height and appearance than in “standard” Haussmann era streets on the riverbanks.

 

I am not embarrassed by learning that, since I am already aware of the heavily fake appearance of today’s Notre Dame. The spire and roof design, particularly the statuary, are the result of the daring imagination of the Haussmann era architect Viollet-le-Duc, who felt impelled to perfect the idea of Gothic and Renaissance architectural aesthetics, by adding his own touch of genius. I personally think he managed to pull it off. His mark is to be seen on famous structures all over France.

 

Thus, the casual stroller passing the Paris town hall by the riverside walk is presented with two styles separated by 500 years of changing tastes. Day or night, this view is extremely satisfying, a waltz of horizontals and verticals emphasised by bands of colour, from the river flood walls to the homes, up past the cathedral roof and on to the sky. The effect is highlighted at night, aided by Paris’ famous mastery of monumental lighting.

 

Technical

 

Being bereft of a tripod on this occasion, my only support was the parapet of the river wall. To achieve an acceptable stabilising speed at F 2.8, I maxed the ISO to 6400, which I usually only use in music clubs, resulting in an acceptable shutter speed of 1/100.

 

For best quality night-time, architectural work, I would have dearly preferred to be able to shoot at ISO 200, but I had to accept that this result was necessarily going to be grainy.

 

Post Processing Treatment

 

Prior to dealing with the best-of-a-bad-world aperture, shutter and film speed choices mentioned above, I first straightened the image to correct the leaning of the steeple. It is not easy to get that angle right “in-camera”, when you are leaning on a curved, uneven stone surface, while shivering in a Winter’s night. I then used the “keystone” tool to straighten vertical lens aberrations at the edges

 

Next, I decided on some drastic pruning. I firstly changed the aesthetic of the original portrait aspect ratio. I made a rather drastic crop, using the “unconstrained” choice of aspect shape, ending up with a near square. Then, in order to retain the 19th century look of the final image, I “cheated” by using the cloning tool to transform vehicles parked on the quai into buildings. If you enlarge the image, you will see that this has been done rather clumsily. If I were to print this image, I would review the cloning to be less obvious.

 

Finally, I applied sharpening and the much-anticipated noise reduction. All things considered, I was not too unhappy with the quality of the final result

 

Settings

 

Camera: Nikon D800

Lens: VR 24-70mm zoom f/2.8G ED

Focal Length: 52mm

Focus Mode: AF-C

Aperture: f/2.8

Shutter Speed: 1/100s

Auto Focus-Area Mode: Continuous

Exposure Mode: Aperture Priority

Exposure Compensation: 0 EV

Metering: Spot

ISO Sensitivity: 6400

Handheld

 

Please comment on the image or my comments. I would love to hear from you and share your thoughts with others.

 

 

Copyright Paul Grayson 2017 All Rights Reserved


The Majesty Of The Law

February 09, 2017  •  1 Comment

I don’t consider myself a « Street Photographer », like so many others who roam Paris, New York or Stratford-Upon-Avon, by day and by night, usually photographing with Leica’s using film and printing in black and white. Nevertheless, living in central Paris and always having a camera at the ready, there is frequently some little interaction taking place that may be worth capturing for posterity. This one was so close that I first had to run into another room and find my camera bag, before capturing it from my balcony.

 

Our current, highly-politicised security situation apart, I have always felt that Paris is one of those places with a bit of an edge. People quickly get ready for an argument, particularly when faced by the police. In fact, the more outnumbered they are by the police, the more they seem to get worked up. Not something that my little British self is used to.

 

Scenario

 

Here we have a typical scenario. This lady is driving the wrong way down a one-way street towards the massed ranks of French riot police – the famous (infamous?) CRS, the Compagnies Republicaines de Securité, who were blocking my street during a large demonstration. Trained to face up to screaming mobs of molotov cocktail throwing, black-hooded, violent, “casseurs” their instincts are honed to perfection to smell trouble and “get their retaliation in first”, as I believe Americans like to say…

 

Clearly this would-be troublemaker was not going to hoodwink the Guardians of Order. Was she intending to accelerate to, say 4 MPH, whip out and assemble a weaponised walking stick to brandish at the nether parts of the approaching men of steel and perhaps reach into her ammunition box, cleverly disguised as a shopping bag and roll a few grenades into the melée?

 

The Outcome

 

Smelling the chance for a good fight, this CRS swaggered up to her, clothed in his gladiatorial protections and ready to unbutton his service pistol at the first sign of trouble. Watching from my balcony, I held my breath in anticipation of blood spurting and bones cracking. Maybe the lady would get hurt too?

 

I could hear nothing as the officer leaned over to courteously hear what she had to say, turned and cleared a path for her to get through the cordon and join the demonstration, which in fact consisted of very middle class Catholic families, nuns and priests protesting about same-sex marriage.

 

You can never be too careful

 

Even this most bourgeois of demonstrations received a lot of attention from the government and therefore the police and even resulted in many arrests later in the day (see my blog post of 29 May 2013). It reminded me of my first Paris Balcony/CRS experience in 1978, when I was living near the Place de la Bastille. One Saturday morning the street filled to the brim with CRS wagons, towing their supplies of shields and tear gas. They swaggered out, donned their kit and shouldered their grenade launchers.

 

I fearfully tried to spy out the threatening hordes who justified their presence, when I became aware that it consisted of a mass of women, many pushing strollers and holding toddlers by the hand, who were seeking support for “ Woman’s Right To Choose”. That’s the Paris I love.  

 

Settings

 

Camera: Nikon D800

Lens: VR 24-70mm zoom f/2.8

Focal Length: 135mm

VR: Off

Focus Mode: AF-C

Aperture: f/8

Shutter Speed: 1/640s

Auto Focus-Area Mode: Continuous

Exposure Mode: Aperture Priority

Exposure Compensation: 0 EV

Metering: Matrix

ISO Sensitivity: 800

Handheld

 

Does this ring any Parisian bells for you? Why not take a tour around my website for nostalgia’s sake?

 

Copyright Paul Grayson 2017 All Rights Reserved


Moskwa Sur Seine

February 02, 2017  •  1 Comment

 

 

Moskva sur SeineMoskva sur SeineCOPYRIGHT 2016 Paul Grayson AMDG

Moskwa Sur Seine

 

Quai Branly in Paris already had a long connection with Russia, even before the completion of the new Orthodox Cathedral at Pont d’Alma in 2016.

 

Most visibly, there is Pont Alexandre III, my “Muse” as regular followers of this blog will know. The French wanted to honour the signatory of the Franco-Russian Alliance of 1892 and so the foundation stone was laid in 1896, by Tsar Alexandre’s son Nicholas II, the last Tsar of all the Russia’s. This Art Nouveau masterpiece is one of the most beautiful bridges in the world, in my opinion.

 

Just nearby the north-eastern corner of the next bridge West, the Pont des Invalides, stands the monument commemorating the contribution of the Russian Expeditionary Force to defending France in WW1, as per the agreement with Alexandre III. Two brigades served on the Western Front and in Greece before the little matter of the Russian Revolution upset the apple cart and the brigades mainly mutinied, leaving a reduced, tsarist Légion Russe fighting until the Armistice.

 

 

Aesthetic

 

I personally like having gold leaf covered, onion domes pop up on this spot. Parisian and Russian authorities cooperated in view of the importance of the existing architectural perspectives including both the Eiffel Tower and the American Church in Paris, to ensure that the height, scale and general design took account of the aesthetics.

 

The main buildings for use by the Russian Orthodox community are less attractive and definitively modern, in contrast to the traditional roof. These mainly face on to the quai and a wide boulevard and I had been searching for a sight line which treated the domes in a more discreet, less time-defined way.

 

As I returned from a demonstration at the Eiffel Tower the day after the American presidential inauguration (if you know what I mean?) I chose a favourite route of mine behind the Musée du quai Branly. I love the architectural whimsies throughout this building, one of which is a reed bed flanking the street at the back of the garden.

 

It is a tranquil spot in warmer weather, usually with water plants rustling in the breeze and ducks and coots nesting there. This January day, the plants were in hibernation, the ducks were warming themselves somewhere else and the water was frozen.

 

Moskwa sur Seine

 

Above all, I had a moment of joy, as my mind recast the view into a reed-covered, frozen stream running towards a dimly seen Orthodox monestary in mother Russia. The setting sun and deep colours of the museum added an emotional edge to my response.

 

Right Angle, Right Time, Right Light

 

The first artistic response that stopped me in my tracks was the perspective of the reed-like posts which adorn the stream of water. They formed a natural composition leading left to right, the way that Western readers see things and formed a strange foreground through which everything else was half-seen. Then I noticed that as they grew smaller with distance, they created a natural space in which the Cathedral domes were framed.

 

Next, I was surprised to notice that the water was solid, not flowing and created a base into which the metal rods were stuck. The water was no longer limpid and formed a solid colour mass which contrasted with the red of the museum and the yellow tones of the church.

 

Finally, the domes. In truth, the light was not right. Notwithstanding the low sun of a late Winter’s afternoon, their newly applied, high quality gold leaf is a camera burn out nightmare. I struggled with different settings, most notable a really severe exposure compensation of -2.7 EV, measured on the domes using a narrow “spot” metering choice.

 

I was not helped by the absence of a tripod, given that I had gone out to participate in and photograph a demonstration, so also I relied on the quality of my D800 sensor to save my bacon.

 

Processing

 

Finally, during processing I used a mask to treat the sky and the dome separately from the rest of the image. Clearly the latter required the shadows to be enhanced, while the former needed both delicate exposure and contrast adjustments, as well as significantly more sharpening than the foreground

 

Settings

 

Camera: Nikon D800

Lens: 24-70mm f2.8G Zoom

Focal Length: 70 mm

Aperture: f/10

Shutter Speed: 1/320s

Aperture Priority

Exposure Mode: Auto with bracketing

Focus programme : Aperture Priority

Exposure Compensation: -2.7 EV

Metering: Spot

ISO Sensitivity: 800

Hand held, resting on a low wall

 

If you can’t take a personal tour around these streets until some later date, please take a tour around my other images of Paris on the rest of the website.

 

Copyright Paul Grayson 2017


Texture

January 26, 2017  •  4 Comments

DoorDoor

Time Passes…

 

I was privileged to take a peek into the past of an Estonian friend’s childhood, visiting the village of Kassari on the island of Hiiumaa. The family Summer house is a thatched, weather-beaten log cabin, which reeks of time.

 

I tried to soak in the atmosphere with my eyes, ears, nose and camera, enjoying the gently overgrown garden and the house, then concentrating on individual details of life gone by – an abandoned millstone, stacks of Winter wood, a barred, wooden window shutter, a cobweb. I felt like I could have bumped into the seven dwarves heading out of the house to work in their mine or Hansel and Gretel playing hide and seek among the trees.

 

The light was filtered softly through the surrounding forest and created strange shadows on the moss-covered and weather-beaten wooden constructions. Everything was bathed in a gentle glow.

 

Texture

 

As I took more time to focus on smaller things, I parked my tripod near the front door and went to investigate its handle. My response to the smooth, rust free, bare metal was influenced by my feelings when I see flights of worn steps in a palace or a church, shaped by aeons of shuffling feet as the faithful pressed in to pray, or servants rushed around doing their work. Who has been here? What were they doing? What were they thinking. Did they live peacefully, or with sadness?

 

The rough-hewn door planks were a tactile contrast to the hand-smoothed door handle. Their roughness, dents and scrapes spoke of resistance to rain, cold and heat and seemed to breathe out their own story of the moment of gladness to be home, hurrying in to eat or to rest.

 

Finally, the speckled, rusted fixing points, metal surfaces pocked by rust and the wind, subliminally spoke of the passage of much, much time and another age before aluminium and chrome.

 

 

Technicals

 

Rather than struggle with shadows by pressing close to the door with a short focal length lens, I parked myself about 2 metres away and chose a long zoom lens. The combination of closeness and maximum zoom created a very tight view of the elements that mattered to me.

 

The greatest problem was the light glare on the curved metal surfaces. Correct exposure of these would over-darken the rest of the image and correctly exposing the main door would “blow out” the highlights.

 

The in-camera solution was a combination of using “spot” exposure calculation aimed at the highlight on the handle and using bracketing to give a choice exposed more “to the left”, emphasising the darker/left-hand side of the histogram.

 

In post-processing, the treatment was to reduce exposure and mildly increase contrast and brightness. Finally, sharpening was used quite aggressively, to bring out the texture of the wood.  

 

Settings

 

Camera: Nikon D800

Lens: VR 70-200mm zoom f/2.8G,

Focal Length: 200mm

VR: OFF

Focus Mode: AF-S

Aperture: f/10

Shutter Speed: 1/50s

Exposure Mode : Aperture Priority

Exposure Compensation : +0.3 EV

Metering: Spot

ISO Sensitivity: 100

Mounted on tripod

 

I hope you enjoyed this. Please take a moment to see other “instants decisifs” which have marked my photographic journey.

 

Copyright Paul Grayson 2017 All Rights Reserved


How Do You Get To Carnegie Hall?

January 19, 2017  •  1 Comment

14 July A14 July A

14 July B14 July B

 

Answer: “Plan! Plan! Plan!”

 

Well, the correct answer is “Practice! Practice! Practice!”, but I am not a violinist, I am a photographer. So, in 2010, when I decided to photograph the air component of the 14 July parade in Paris, I wondered how I might place myself under the flight line, without being invited by the President of the Republic to set up my equipment on his reviewing platform at Place de la Concorde.

 

As a second option, I also felt it unlikely that I would be allowed to join the special forces spotters, police snipers and air traffic controllers who take over the top of the Arc de Triomphe on the same occasion. But that thought is the hint which led to a genius solution – the flight line down the Champs Elysees is a straight line at the eastern end of a geometric continuation of the Avenue de la Grande Armee, the Avenue Charles de Gaulle in Neuilly and the Esplanade de la Defense in Courbevoie.

 

Eureka!

 

While I would be unlikely to be left in peace by pedestrians or the police, were I to try and work in the centre of one of the main roads, even if I were on a pedestrian crossing, the Esplanade is pedestrianised, wide and has clear sight lines for the airshow. Here was my Eureka moment to solve the problem. I need not be anywhere near the crowds on the Champs, nor in the middle of a road, I just had to move myself a few miles to the West, which placed me only a few seconds ahead of the arrival of the aircraft over the President and his guests.

 

A second Eureka, was the fantastic opportunity to combine the airshow with the remarkable architecture over which the aircraft pass, i.e. the Arche de la Defense. Making the most of the architecture and the flypast nevertheless posed some technical problems.

 

No Problems, Only solutions?

 

First problem, how to capture both the distant, approaching aircraft “under” the Arche at the same time as imaging the formations in tighter groups as they swept overhead? First decision: use two cameras, one fixed on a tripod with a wide, fixed aperture lens covering the Arche and a second camera, hand-held, with a vibration reduction zoom.

 

Second problem, how to maintain a clear working space and line of sight, given that the Esplanade might also be full of spectators. Second decision: arrive early and make a space for myself where I would protect my angle on the Arche from passers by. This necessitated being on the edge of a raised structure, where no one could walk past the camera.

 

Third problem, how to operate two cameras nearly simultaneously. While sophisticated wireless solutions do exist, I did not want to spend the money on hiring them. So, my third decision was to “fire” the fixed, wide, prime lens aimed at the Arche on rapid exposures, using a manual cable release, then dropping the cable release and swinging the zoom up to hand-hold images of the aircraft in the sky above and heading east towards the waiting crowds on the Champs Elysees.

 

Technicals

 

Images 1 and 2 were the hand-held option, while image 3 is from the tripod option. The weather that day was unusually bad for July, being overcast and showery. Given the poor light, I upped ISO from my usual preferred range and took the risk of not maximising speed, given that the aircrafts’ apparent motion was reduced during their approach. Those choices still produced wide apertures, which deteriorated the depth of field.

 

In retrospect, there was room to push ISO higher to allow use of higher shutter speed. On a future occasion, there are likely to be blue skies, Global Warming permitting.

 

 

Image 1

Image 2

Image 3

Camera

Nikon D70

Nikon D70

Nikon D300

Lens

70-200mm f/2.8

70-200mm f/2.8

PC-E Nikkor 24mm f 3.5D

Focal Length

70mm

105mm

24mm

Focus Mode

Shutter speed Priority

Shutter speed Priority

Shutter speed Priority

Aperture

f/4

f/5.6

f/3.5

Shutter Speed

1/600

1/600

1/1000

Exposure Mode

Auto

Auto

Continuous

Exposure Compensation

0

0

0

Metering

Pattern

Pattern

Pattern

ISO

640

640

1250

Tripod

Hand Held

Hand Held

 

Processing Software

Capture One 10

Capture One 10

Capture One 10

 

I look forward to seeing you on the Esplanade on some future Fete Nationale.

 

Copyright Paul Grayson 2017 All Rights Reserved


Ice Land

January 12, 2017  •  1 Comment

Ice LandIce Land

Fire and ice.

 

November in Iceland. A derelict piece of ice on a volcanic black sand beach reflects the sun’s rays breaking at 10 a.m. I was blessed with clear skies for the whole of my two days exploring this “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps 139:14) place, but you do have to be patient before the light starts.

These small chunks had beached on the edge of the glacier’s outflow into the Atlantic and been sculpted by wind, sand and sun into sharp relief. The shape and the light changed abruptly as I circled this one and I tried to capture it outside of my shadow, with my back to the sea and the sun on its face.

The enormous mother ships of these tiny shards floated half a mile inland, waiting for wind, tide and the relentless pressure from behind to press them out of the estuary. They were more solid, more densely coloured and rounded in appearance. Just as beautiful in a different way. My beach dwellers though, seemed to have additionally passed through the hands of diamond cutters and been set in beds of soft darkness for the joy of the beachcombers.

 

 Technical

 

Given the wintery, early sun and the sharp contrasts, a low ISO and speed combination were inevitable. Also, in order to capture the reflection of the sun, a very low angle of view was needed. I was helped in this by flattening the tripod’s legs to place the camera body about 50cm above the ground and by the composition flexibility added by a Perspective Control lens.

Managing the brightness in the ice was the second greatest problem. It took some experimentation with adjusting the Exposure compensation and I was surprised to find that it took all of 3 stops negative adjustment to give a satisfying final capture.

Finally, focussing manually with a PC lens, while lying on a beach with my nose nearly in the sand was another challenge, not helped by the lack of flexibility imposed by layers of upper body weatherproof clothing and the wearing of gloves.

Eventually it all came together and I hope that you like the result.

 

Camera: Nikon D300

Lens: PC-E Nikkor 24mm f 3.5D ED Perspective Control

Focal Length: 24 mm

Focus Mode: Manual

Autofocus Area Mode: Single

Aperture: f/9

Shutter Speed: 1/13s

Exposure Mode: Aperture Priority

Exposure Compensation: -3.0 EV

Metering: Pattern

ISO Sensitivity: 250

Tripod

Processing Software: Capture One 10

 

If you ever get the chance, do not just change planes at Keflavik. Take a tour!

 

Copyright Paul Grayson 2017 All Rights Reserved

 


Rue des Vertus 1917

January 05, 2017  •  2 Comments

Rue des Vertus 1917Rue des Vertus 1917

Apologies

 

I used a long break from my blog until 2017 to travel back a century in time to the Marais district, here in Paris. This is the first image I have published of my journey, taken in Rue des Vertus. I really regret this long absence in sharing my passion with you and hope that you will again accompany me on my weekly, Friday photo blog.

 

Well…the truth is that I am somewhat lacking in virtues in giving you this story, since I am, more truthfully celebrating my return to blogging with an image that I captured only today of a street with virtually no visual intrusion of the 21st century.

 

Endurance of a Long Distance Photographer

 

I was celebrating by taking a stroll through the adjacent Marais, because I had just recovered my D800 and two of my most-used lenses from the Nikon Pro repair shop in Boulevard Beaumarchais.

 

This had been made necessary, because in 2016 I damaged my camera equipment and myself three times. Twice, by climbing on rocks at the shore side in Biarritz and later by slipping on ice in Iceland (seems to be somewhat of a warning in the name of the place?). The third shock was when I knocked a camera and lens 3 feet onto concrete during a photo shoot in a warehouse.

 

Nikon seems to be more robust than I am, since the equipment still worked (with some imaginative adjustments) until I could find a break in my programme and let them be taken away for repair. I, on the other hand, ended up in ER twice and needed a tetanus injection, stitches in my knee and two sessions of heavy antibiotics before I was “repaired”. The downside was that, whereas my medical repairs were financially painless, having come out of prepaid taxes, the Nikon repairs were a 100% deduction from disposable income.

 

Timeless Beauty

 

I was itching to try out my newly-repaired and excellently cleaned and re-calibrated equipment, so I chose streets that I did not know well and let the serendipity of Paris do its magic.

 

There is a wonderful light phenomenon where the sun shines in a break in the clouds after rain, giving a strong, clear light which glistens on the wet ground. I was stopped in my tracks as I passed this side street because of the glistening, water-clean cobbles. In truth, the sky was blue, not rainy, but my black and white conversion creates the sense of a grey, wet sky passing by.

 

I was equally very much struck by the absence of modernity in this section of street. I immediately felt the timelessness of this old street in an even more ancient section of the city. In full disclosure, I can confirm that I have deleted two very small television aerials from the roofs, but these were still difficult to see without magnification.

 

Equally I exerted the patience to eliminate modern passers-by, so as to maintain the effect and I hurried home to complete the illusion by a black and white conversion.

 

Processing

 

The narrow street and low Winter sun generated a huge dynamic range disparity between the centre and the sides of the image. I therefore chose a combination of low ISO and “spot” metering of the over-exposed area to give the sensor the best chance to cover the range as well as to expose “to the right” in order to avoid “blowing out” the bright section. I was mindful of the corrective capabilities of my new post-processing software Capture One Pro 10, by Phase One.

 

Indeed, the image required strong treatment of the areas in shadow, which seemed to result in an unusual high level of noise for such a low ISO. I therefore added noise reduction, which is the first time I recollect having done so at low ISO.

 

The final “tweak” was the above-mentioned elimination of small, hard to see aerials using the “Heal” tool.

 

 

 

Settings

 

Camera: Nikon D800

Lens: 24-70mm f2.8G ED Zoom

Focal Length: 70 mm

Focus Mode: AF-C

Autofocus Area Mode: Single

Aperture: f/14

Shutter Speed: 1/800s

Exposure Mode: Aperture Priority

Exposure Compensation: 0 EV

Metering: Spot

ISO Sensitivity: 320

Hand Held, resting on street furniture

Processing Software: Capture One 10

 

I am glad to be back online with you. Please also take a moment to enjoy the rest of this website.

 

 

Copyright Paul Grayson 2017 All Rights Reserved


Zuave

June 11, 2016  •  1 Comment

ZuaveZuaveCopyrighted Digital Image

 

 

 

Zuave 2Zuave 2

 

Déjà Vu All Over Again

 

I “printed” the top image of “the Zuave” in black and white in order to echo the historical images of the Paris flood of 1910. The walls of the Seine in Paris have been significantly raised since that date and the Pont d’Alma was rebuilt in steel in 1970, such that today’s photographer has to take more risks leaning over the balustrade than prior to 1970, as per the historical image (courtesy of Vosges Matin). 

 

The high water mark for this year’s flood reached his upper thighs, a long way from the shoulder level of 1910, but this level of flooding left significant damage in its wake in central Paris, not least because of the amount of leisure infrastructure which has progressively replaced the riverside motorway in recent years.

 

The third image gives a little taste of what happened and a warning about how much worse a repetition could be. The heavy wooden blocks are part of the street furniture on the Quai d’Orsay, which I hope will be fixed to the ground in future, since I observed at least one sailing ship at anchor desperately trying to prevent others from holing their ship and smashing its gangway.

 

Pont Alexandre III in floodPont Alexandre III in floodCopyrighted Digital Image

 

Let It Begin With Me (Not!)

 

On a purely selfish note, I live a few streets away from the river within the flood zone, and observed the rise of the sewer waters beneath out basement garage to within 1.5 metres of our building. I now know that the Zuave will be a useful measure for me to decide when to move my junk out of our “cave”. I guess that when it reaches his waist, next time, we will have a few hours to save our stuff. That said, the speed of the rise and fall of the waters was truly amazing to behold and I could be kidding myself.

So, the point of this week’s blog is:

 

  1. The statisticians spoke of a “centennial  event in 1910
  2. 106 years later, the event was still only a taster of greater things to come.
  3. “The Big One” is still out there (think about that any Californians among you)

 

Copyright Paul Grayson 2016 All Rights Reserved


Never Leave Home...

April 21, 2016  •  2 Comments

HeronHeronCopyrighted Digital Image

 

…without a camera. I mean a “real” camera, not a phone. As I shared in last week’s blog, I am presently suffering from health issues that make it uncomfortable to carry my usual weight of equipment in a backpack. Nevertheless, I went out walking with a visiting friend and chose to lighten my load, by carrying “only” a D800 and a good quality, albeit relatively short reach 24-70mm zoom, all of which was attached to a monopod. A total of 3 or 4 kilos, I would estimate. As we walked in the Tuileries Gardens, I was attracted to investigate a crowd of onlookers, who were interested in something in one of the ponds. This is the result.

 

Ignore Your Friends!

 

Without a thought for my duties as a host, I abandoned our friend and headed for the crowd. There, in the centre of Paris, was a beautiful heron, which seemed unperturbed by the humans lining the edge of the pond as he/she concentrated on finding a meal swimming around below.

 

The bird moved here and there, still staying within the confines of the pond and I settled into a café chair with my wife and our guest, as we discussed the menu. Then my “subject” moved onto the edge of the pond not far from me and I decided to pounce. I again abandoned my friend and my wife and sped off to focus on the gorgeous creature (other than my wife, I mean). I don’t know why, but herons have always held a special place in my enjoyment of nature. They seem so solitary, graceful and, somehow, peaceful. I photographed it as it stood and silently hunted, but I was mainly waiting for it to take off. 

 

Think!

 

I was extremely keen to capture the bird in flight, so speed and focussing accuracy was key. I set the focussing choice to “continuous” and a high ISO of 2000, although it was a sunny day, such that a speed of 1/2000s resulted.

 

Secondly, since I had made a weight-reducing choice before I left home, I did not have access to my favourite 70-200mm zoom. As per my blog last week, I “tricked” the camera to lengthen the reach of the lens by adjusting to the DX format, which give a 1.5x increment to apparent focal length. Thus I was effectively able to max it out at 105mm.

 

Process!

 

These settings still resulted in a rather large view of the target subject in the captured image, so I had to crop down rather severely to about 1/3 of the original image. The 36.3 effective megapixel size of sensor was an aid to keeping the final, shrunken image at a decent quality.

 

Equally my new processing software (Capture One 9) was helpful in seamlessly cleaning up some distractions caused by detritus in the water and delicately sharpening the image. I hope you enjoy the result.

 

 

Settings

 

Camera: Nikon D800

Lens: VR 24-70mm zoom f/2.8

Focal Length: 70mm x 1.5 = 105mm

VR: N.A.

Focus Mode: AF-C

Aperture: f/8

Shutter Speed: 1/2000s

Auto Focus-Area Mode: Continuous

Exposure Mode: Aperture Priority

Exposure Compensation: 0 EV

Metering: Matrix

ISO Sensitivity: 2000

Mounted on monopod

 

The motto of this week’s blog is: Never leave home without a camera – ever!

 

Copyright Paul Grayson 2016 All Rights Reserved


Wipeout!

April 14, 2016  •  2 Comments

1 Surfer1 SurferCopyrighted Digital Image

 

This series of 3 images preceding, during and after the surfer ends his run should have had a fourth crash “on film”, i.e. me. I was enthusiastically clambering over the rocks on a promontory at the beach in Biarritz two weeks ago, when I slipped and fell from the boulders protecting the structure from a winter battering, onto the concrete pathway. Wildly waving my precious camera and lens in the air, so as to avoid their demise, I nearly caused my own, as I fell heavily on my left side. Luckily my head was spared, but given this behaviour, you may well be wondering what use it is to me.

 

Other beachgoers hastened to help me up and check on my health, but, bruised and battered on my left knee, elbow and shoulder, I “bravely” waved them away and carried on with my action photography of the surfers. The wisdom of my actions was proven a week later as I sat in the emergency ward at L’Hopital George Pompidou being prescribed strong antibiotics and a tetanus injection for an infected, swollen elbow. I am only now recovering my normal mobility.

 

Was It Worth It?

 

2 Surfer2 SurferCopyrighted Digital Image

 

This particular surfer is clearly well experienced and he demonstrated many techniques of balance and wave-riding to great effect. Even as the wave buries him in its final charge to the beach, he keeps control and his balance amazingly well, as evidenced by the second image.

 

3 Surfer3 SurferCopyrighted Digital Image

 

These three images were chosen as a sequence to tell the story, but I also hope to identify the hero of our story (evidently not me – as described above) by a contact I have at a local surfing journal

 

Technical

 

Settings necessarily prioritised speed, given the sport involved. Otherwise, the excellent light of southern France did the rest. I did also "trick" the camera to extend my enlargement / telephoto capacity, by switching the sensor from 35mm "FX" format to Nikon's smaller "DX" format, which creates a "crop factor" of 1.5x the normal magnification of a 35mm lens.  Hence the reach of the 200mm lens was electronically extended to 300mm.

 

Settings

Copy

Camera: Nikon D800

Lens: VR 70-200mm zoom f/2.8G,

Focal Length: 300mm

VR: OFF

Focus Mode: AF-C

Aperture: f/9

Shutter Speed: 1/2500s

Auto Focus-Area Mode: Single

Exposure Mode: Aperture Priority

Exposure Compensation: 0 EV

Metering: Matrix

ISO Sensitivity: 800

Mounted on tripod

 

The motto of this week’s blog is:

 

A) Be very careful in dangerous places and have a primary focus on safety, rather than on the image capture opportunities

B) If it comes to your health versus that of the camera – drop the camera!   

 

Copyright Paul Grayson 2016 All Rights Reserved


Staircase

March 31, 2016  •  1 Comment

StaircaseStaircaseCopyrighted Digital Image

 

I was attracted to photograph this staircase when leaving a party on the third floor of a Haussmann period apartment on Avenue Niel. This building is from the second, 1860’s phase of the great Baron’s reconstruction of Paris.

The rules imposed a certain homogeneity to new residential construction, which contributes to the beautiful proportions of Paris’ streets to this day, but I never cease to be amazed and pleased by the variety and artistry visible in the individual buildings. They are a tribute to both the designs of architects and the skills of many artisans, such as the ironworkers, stonemasons, woodworkers and plasterers who provided the embellishments and finish to the main structure.

Almost every Haussmannian building seems to have a spiral staircase, although they are mainly hidden by the construction of lifts/elevators in the stairwell. These often-miniscule appliances are a joy to discover and I like to think that their forced intimacy is one of the reasons for Paris’ well-deserved reputation for romance. 

 

Fractals, Fibonacci Sequences and Spirals

“Fractals are repeating geometric patterns that combine to form a whole” says Leona Henryson in a fascinating article I recommend you to read at: http://www.creativebloq.com/design/math-every-designer-needs-know-91517049

This structure interested me for three reasons: the shape created by one flattened side of the spiral, the soft light suffusing the top floor and gradation of the soft creamy-brown tones of wood, varnish and paint.

Not being a Da Vinci, using the math of aesthetics is a subconscious endeavour for me. I am however, most sensitive to it when working with the crop tools in post-processing. Just as moving a few inches can change the impact of a potential photograph in the viewfinder prior to shooting, so infinitely small adjustments to how an image is “cut” and how it is proportioned (aspect ratio) create satisfaction or irritation. This is “felt” and is extremely difficult to explain in words.

 

Struggles

I am struggling with back pain at the moment, which is probably caused by my habit of carrying a photographic backpack and monopod most of the time! Consequently, I was under-equipped during this outing, limiting my carry to the D800 and an f2.8, 24-70mm zoom.

While the relatively wide angle and wide aperture available from the zoom were just what the doctor ordered in order to squeeze the staircase into the frame, I had no stabilisation device, which I could use to take a long exposure or to poke out into the centre of the airspace. I therefore used myself as the camera platform, painfully leaning over the balcony and twisting to point the camera upwards.

As far as the exposure was concerned, given low light and the need for some speed to minimise camera shake, I had to maximise the speed of the film and the speed of the shutter. A setting 6,400 ISO offered a speed of 1/125s, which I thought a reasonable compromise.

The insoluble problem then became depth of field. At f2.8, the bulk of the image was going to be in soft focus. I was in pain, uncomfortable and unsure, so I chose to take multiple images at differing focus points from near to medium distance to farthest away. Most of these turned out to be unattractive, but I found that this one provided a moderately satisfying compromise, with the psychologically important area of focus nearest the eye.

 

Settings

Camera: Nikon D800

Lens: 24-70mm f2.8G Zoom

Focal Length: 58 mm

Focus Mode: AF-C

Autofocus Area Mode: Single

Aperture: f/2.8

Shutter Speed: 1/125s

Exposure Mode: Aperture Priority

Exposure Compensation: 0 EV

Metering: Matrix

ISO Sensitivity: 6,400

Hand Held

 

I hope that you are in the habit of looking around you as you go through life, seeing how Creation and human creativity provides these shapes and light effects for you to savour. Maybe you can whip out your 12 megapixel Smartphone and capture it in a photograph?

 

Copyright Paul Grayson 2016