Friday, 13 January 2017

52 Week Project - Week 2

Traditional Landscape. Ilford Delta 100
It's week two of the 52 Week Project, and this week the theme is 'Traditional Landscape'.

The brief says to: "Shoot a beautiful landscape and share it with the world. Find a nice foreground and don't forget the sky."

The image I've shot for the project isn't my 'normal' approach to landscapes. For a couple of reasons....

I want to try and 'push' myself a little with these weekly challenges, and try to create something out of the norm for me. Otherwise what's the point - right? So for a start, the photo is obviously in portrait orientation - whereas I would normally automatically default to landscape orientation for, um, a landscape 😉

The other obvious departure for me is the use of black and white. I love black and white images, but I almost always think in glorious technicolor when I think of landscapes. I tend to reserve black and white for portraiture or documentary style work. But I didn't really have a choice this time, since the shot was taken on B&W film. Ilford Delta 100 to be exact.

We've had a shockingly wet and miserable summer here on the West Coast, with very little chance to go out and take glorious colour images. Even so, my wife and I still try to go for a morning walk every day, (in the rain) and one morning this week it looked like it might be clear for an hour while we walked. So I loaded my Yashica 230AF with Ilford Delta and headed out to see if I could at least get some photography done.

There's a farm just down the road where we live, and I have often wanted to stop and take some photos of the cows in the field. I was in luck this morning, as the herd was grazing close to the road where we walk. I loved the mist rolling over the hills, and the cows - true to their inquisitive nature - looked up to watch us pass by. I took about three shots and moved on. Two were in landscape, and one was in portrait orientation - and I liked the portrait one best.

Is it a 'beautiful' landscape? I think so. Is it a 'traditional' landscape? Maybe not - although I do get quite a Gainsborough or Constable feel from the picture. Did I find a 'nice foreground'? I love the cows staring back at the viewer (very cow-like behavior), and the way the centrally placed cow is  exactly in the middle and front-on, while the second cow is profile and off to the side. And finally - did I 'forget the sky'? Well, it's not your classic blue sky with puffy clouds landscape - but I love the mist rolling in over the hills. It transports me immediately to the same dull, drizzly morning of the walk. It wouldn't evoke the same feel with puffy clouds. So yeah, I think I nailed the brief. What do you think?

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Charming Creek Walkway, Ngakawau Gorge

Over the Christmas/New Year break we had planned as a family to do a few local walks (weather permitting). So we jumped at the chance to join some friends who were going on the Charming Creek Walk, half an hour north of Westport, in the Ngakawau Gorge (pronounced 'Nock-a-war').

Fortunately we chose the right day to go as the day dawned beautiful and clear (we've had a lot of rain this summer). It was, in fact, too clear, with harsh light that followed us around all day.

Charming Creek Daisy: Celmisia Morganii. OM-D E-M5 MkII
The track is an easy walk, with only a very gradual incline following old rail lines to a stunning waterfall about an hour in. Along the way, and depending on the time of year that you visit (December/January is ideal) you will come across the Charming Creek Daisy (celmisia morganii) growing along the side of the track. This highly localised species of daisy is found only in the Ngakawau Gorge - and grows abundantly along the Charming Creek walkway.

The Olympus Zuiko 12-50mm EZ f3.5/6.3 has a 'macro' setting on the lens that I find myself using quite a lot. It's obviously not 'true' 1:1 macro, but it allows for decent close-focusing at the 50mm end of the range, where the f6.3 aperture allows for a decent depth of field. The lenses 'bokeh' (out of focus background) is quite smooth and natural, making for some very pleasant 'macro' flower shots. My son Josh doesn't have this functionality with his 14-42mm kits lens and he really missed this on the walk. He seems naturally drawn to macro-type photo opportunities, so a dedicated macro lens (the 60mm f2.8 or 30mm f3.5) is the top of his lens wish list.

Tunnel exit. Charming Creek, Ngakawau Gorge
The Charming Creek Railway was a privately owned line built in 1912 by brothers George and Bob Watson, sawmillers from Granity. The original line was wooden and was worked by horses. It ran as far as Watson's Mill in the Charming Creek Valley. In the 1920s the line was upgraded to steel and rail tractors were introduced. Bob Watson established the Charming Creek Westport Coal Company in 1926, and from 1929 up to six coal trains used the line daily. By 1942, at the height of its operation, the Coal Company employed 69 men and produced 43,385 tonnes of coal. The line closed in 1958, after which wood and coal was trucked by road to Seddonville.

This sense of early New Zealand pioneering history is evident all along the Charming Creek walk. Old rusting train parts and the ever-present steel tracks that cut through the forest and tunnels, remind you of the walks historical significance every step of the way. Yet, as impressive as the history is, the crowning jewel of the Ngakawau Gorge has to be the impressive Mangatini Falls.

Mangatini Falls, Charming Creek Walkway, Ngakawau Gorge. Olympus OM-D E-M5 MkII with 9mm fisheye bodycap lens
On the other side of a suspension bridge, about an hour's walk in, Mangatini Falls can be heard long before it is seen. The rumble and roar of hundreds of tonnes of water makes for an impressive sound as you approach the falls - and the view does not disappoint. There are tracks that lead down for a more up-close-and-personal view of the falls, or you can take in the full vista from a lookout along the track.

Above is the view from the track, taken with the 9mm fisheye bodycap lens. Again, the conditions were quite harsh, with very bright highlights and deep shadows. I exposed for the highlights as much as possible, letting the shadows go black. Later, using ACDSee's Ultimate 9 software, I pulled out as much detail from the shadows as I could while still making it look natural.

I could have maximized the dynamic range by using the HDR function on the OM-D E-M5 MkII, or set up on a tripod and taken five exposures that covered a complete range of exposures. But to be honest, I didn't even think of using the in-built HDR function, and didn't have a tripod for bracketing exposures. Shooting in RAW, and knowing I could pull detail out of the shadows later on as long as the highlights were ok, was my best option. And it worked fine - although at ISO 800 the shadows are a little noisy.  

Fern frond. OM-D E-M5 MkII with Olympus 40-150mm f4/5.6.  F6.3 @ 1/60th sec, ISO 400
Because a lot of the day was spent shooting macro in the shade - hand-held - my ISO hovered around 800. I will take the E-M5 MkII up to 1600 without too much concern for noise, although it is definitely there at the higher ISO's. The great feature of the OM-D's is their incredible IBIS (In Body Image Stabilisation) that can give you two or even three stops to play with, so you can wait longer before having to increase the ISO.

The fern frond above was taken at 1/60th of a second with the 40-150mm lens zoomed all the way out to 150mm. This makes it the equivalent of a 300mm focal length on a full-frame system. Conventional wisdom would claim that the shutter speed should be at least equal to the focal length if you want a sharp image - which would have meant shooting at 1/500th sec on a film camera.  Shooting at 1/60th instead has given me three extra stops (1/125th, 1/250th, 1/500th) to play with, allowing me to lower the ISO to 400. The resulting shot therefore has less noise, and is plenty sharp enough.

A family of Photographers. Charming Creek Walkway
Despite the overall harsh lighting conditions, we had a fantastic time, and took some great photos along the Charming Creek Walkway. It's one of the most spectacular (and easy) walks on the West Coast, and well worth doing if you are ever lucky enough to be in this part of New Zealand.

I'm certainly going to do the walk again soon - hopefully on a slightly more overcast day. I've got an 8-stop ND filter which I think would be perfect to play with in places along the track, and at the waterfall itself. Nicky, a friend and fellow photographer who came with us on the walk, used her 10-stop ND for some water images and got some beautiful results. Can't wait to give it a go myself.   

Saturday, 7 January 2017

52 Week Project - Week 1

2017 is here - so it's 'that' time of the year. The time to make those pointless (maybe) New Year's resolutions that you will break before you're even through January. Most of us do it every year - and most of us don't follow through on any of them...

So this year, instead of making new year's resolutions, I thought I would just make a new year's commitment. Isn't that the same thing? Isn't it just semantics? Maybe. Only time will tell. But this time around, my wife and I have made the same commitment; to be more intentional in being creative this year. For me that means a photography project, and for my wife it means more quilting projects. We are going to try and help each other with this commitment - and it will also mean being a lot more deliberate with our 'spare' time not being taken up with mindless activities like watching TV.

Confession - I'm hopeless when it comes to photography projects. Last year I decided to make portraits on medium format film of notable people in my town. Never happened. In 2012 I had an idea for a project - 12 cameras in 2012. I'd shoot every month for a year with a different old film camera, and turn the results into a book. What a great idea! Never happened. And then there was my pathetic attempt at a 365 photography project. It lasted about two weeks before I was so stressed from having to take a photo every day that I vowed and declared to never attempt a 365 project ever again! So I'm not going to.

But what I am going to do - which I hope (pray) is a bit more achievable, is a 52 Week Photography project. One photo a week, on a particular subject, designed to get you thinking creatively. More achievable than a 365 project? I certainly hope so. And added together with my new year's commitment to be more creative, I'm hoping that I'm on to a winner?

Selfie. Samsung Galaxy S3 with SketchGuru app. (Print filter)
I found a 52 Week Photography project on the web at Dogwood Photography's website, which outlines the subjects for all 52 weeks, and looked achievable (on paper at least). It's broken down into three main areas that keep repeating; portrait, landscape and artistic. Week 1 is a Self Portrait.

SketchGuru App (halftone filter)
While waiting for my wife to get some groceries, I decided to do my first weeks project sitting in the car. I have a few photo apps on my phone that I've never used, so thought this would be the ideal time to give them a go. One app in particular - SketchGuru - looked promising, so I fired it up, pointed the phone back at myself, and had a play. I had a lot of fun, and it was a great way to kill half an hour while I waited in the car!

So that's week 1 under my belt. Only 51 more weeks to go! 😊  Hopefully I can stick at it for that time, although I'm sure there will be some weeks that will be touch-and-go. I'm feeling pretty good and relaxed about it at the moment though, and actually pretty excited about this year's creative possibilities. I will post my 'final' shot for the week, every week, on this blog. So if nothing else, that should give me 52 posts on the blog for 2017! If I make it to the end, it will be great to look back on a year's worth of photography challenges and the images that this will produce.

Do you have any photography projects on the go for 2017? Are you interested in doing the 52 Week Challenge that I'm doing? The great thing about the 52 week challenge is that you can start it at any time - not just at the start of a new year. I've just done it that way so that it falls neatly within the same year. But you don't have to. If you're keen to do the same project, click on Dogwood Photography's name and a link will open that will take you directly to the project page. I'd love to hear from you if you start doing the challenge - or if you are doing something different? Drop me a line in the comments section below and let me know.