Westminster Bridge at Night

Westminster Bridge at Night
Taxi pickup on Westminster Bridge, London

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

A Splash of Darkness

I do enjoy a bit of night photography. 
The challenges are different from shooting in daylight and it is like having to learn how to take a photograph all over again.

I benefitted from going on a couple of evening courses a few years ago, which gave me the basic tools with which to experiment. 

To date, the shot I took back then of the Isle of Dogs is still the most visually arresting night shot I have created. But I have managed a few decent efforts since then.

Isle of Dogs, London, from the beach at Rotherhithe
f/11 ----  30 secs  ----  ISO 100  ----  28mm

I like capturing trails of light, and roads with vehicles moving along them are great for that.

Light trails of a bus passing the Langham Hotel, Eastbourne
Technical data for this image appears to have been lost but I'm guessing
at about f/11 @ 5-10 secs with an ISO of 100 and a focal length of around 28mm

I came across a new challenge recently on a visit to Folkestone. Both the inner and outer harbours were bordered by light sources whilst being, in themselves, in shadow. 

In Folkestone, the bright lights of the hotel did more to accentuate shadow than to illuminate the harbour
f/5.6  ----  5 secs  ----  ISO 100  ----  24mm

I actually had to start think about angles and light direction. It was a great, if unplanned lesson but I think I got some decent results in the end.

Judge for yourself.

The outer harbour, Folkestone, was deep in shadow, requiring a much longer exposure with a wide aperture
f/2.8  ----  30 secs  ----  ISO 100  ----   70mm

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

A Brief Moment in Time

I've often said that one of the things that fascinates me about photography is the way that it captures, in a fraction of a second, a moment that can never be repeated.

That moment, at that place at that time and of that subject are absolutely unique. Even a re-creation of the scene can never capture it in precisely the same way. Looking at old photographs really is a journey into the past.

This was brought sharply into focus for me just recently when our beautiful dog Layla, passed away at the unbearably young age of four years and nine months.

No more pain, my beautiful girl, no more pain.
I suppose that, because she was young, I had begun taking for granted the fact that she was there. At any moment, there she was with a wealth of expressions, poses and actions just waiting for me to photograph. And there she would be for the foreseeable future.

But suddenly, she was gone.

I'm still full of grief - it was only a short while ago that she died -  but I am so glad that I took hundreds of pictures of her in the short time we had together.

So often in life, memories, and the photographs that support them, are all that are left.

Saturday, 10 August 2019

Exploration of Monochrome

I have published a few photographs in monochrome, but I can't say that, so far, I have really got to grips with it.
One of my earliest attempts at creating monochrome from colour.
Not bad (and you can criticise the composition if you wish). Fairly contrasty. I was pleased with it at the time.

Original image  - f/5.6   ---   1/320 sec   ---   ISO 100   ---   70mm

The more I look at (good) monochrome images, the more apparent it is that it is a skill-set all of its own - distinctly different from colour photography.  I'm not talking about the desaturating of colour images - although that has its place too and, if done right, can be equally impressive. And that is all I have done in this area so far.
Yes, this is monochrome.
The image was desaturated of all colour except blacks, greys and whites,
before I added a tint at the end of the process.
Original image - f/5.6   ---   1/250 sec   ---   ISO 320   ---   400mm

I'm talking about actually shooting in monochrome. It's a whole new ball-game; like having to learn to use a camera again. Light, shadow, texture - everything in fact - are all different.

When you consider that I started out, aged about ten-ish with a roll of black-and-white film and a second-hand Brownie, you would think that I would have a handle on it. But actually, I'm finding the prospect quite daunting.

The side lighting, combined with the
monochrome finish brought out every little contour,
many of which were not immediately evident in the
original colour image.
Original image - f/3.2   ---   1/1600 sec   ---   ISO 125   ---   67mm
Just recently I started taking an interest in the work of street photographers and in particular their monochrome images. They seem to have so much more impact and drama when they are presented like that. So I am thinking about my options. I've got a small Canon G16 camera who's image quality is good, but not up to DSLR standard.

Shooting our black dog against a fairly dark background
really shouldn't have worked in monochrome, but somehow
it did and I even indulged in a small amount of vignette.
I think her lovely shiny coat and the natural light were key.
Original image - f/3.2   ---   1/100 sec   ---   ISO 250   ---   47mm

These days, you're taking your life in your hands if you start pointing a big camera around the streets of suburban London, so maybe I'll get out and have a go with that. A few discreet shots here and there should be a good start. I've also got a Panasonic TZ90, which has a much longer zoom and a flip-up screen (useful in the street) but whose picture quality, so far, I have not found to be as good.

So my aim is, eventually, to be able to publish some genuine monochrome images but in the meantime, enjoy these few, originally shot in colour of course, which I have worked on to produce - well - something different from what they originally were.

Another early attempt at dramatizing an image using monochrome.
I remember being fascinated at the way the clouds suddenly appeared in what had been a rather
washed-out sky and how the dereliction of the building was suddenly accentuated.
Original image - f/8   ---   1/320 sec   ---   ISO 100   ---   70mm

Friday, 19 July 2019

The Moon and Me

Photographically speaking, I have a love-hate relationship with the moon.

Clouds are usually a nuisance when shooting the moon.
But just occasionally, they produce some interesting effects.
f/5.6   ---   1/200 sec   ---   ISO 1600   ---   380mm
It's not the moon's fault. There it is, as it has been since time immemorial, and there am I, a momentary speck on the face of the Earth, trying to capture it in all its glory.

And for most of the time, failing miserably.

There are lots of factors I could blame (and often do, to my shame).

A Blood Moon was not expected the night I shot this.
But as it sank towards the horizon, it developed this orange glow.
f/5.6   ---   1/250 sec   ---   ISO 100   ---   400mm
The moon's position - never in the same place twice, or in my blind spot, or too low or too high.

The moon's brightness -  I always assumed that I would need wide aperture and long time exposure, what with shooting at night. How wrong can you be? That old lump of rock can be damned bright.

The weather -  I'm British, for heaven's sake. Of course the weather is going to muck up my photography, especially clouds. It's a given.
Blood Moon, partial eclipse, clear sky. I was in heaven!
Using a tripod, I shot these five images, all with the same settings,
at one-minute intervals then overlaid them in Photoshop
Interesting effect.
f/5.6   ---   Half sec   ---   ISO100   ---   335mm

It's too far / too small - The moon's distance from the Earth is not constant. But that's what zoom lenses and cropping are for, isn't it?

It's too late (or early) - Yes, well, hauling my sorry arse out of bed at 0400 to get a shot of our nearest celestial body is not something that is likely to happen any time soon.

It's too cold -  Oh yes. Gloves and cameras. Not a great combo. How do they do it in snowy places?

This is just about the best shot of the moon that I have ever captured.
It's not so bad, I suppose, but I always want that little bit more sharpness.
One day...

f/5.6   ---   ISO100   ---   1/500 sec   ---   400mm
But the one excuse I haven't used - even though it is the most accurate of the lot -  is that actually, I'm just a bit crap when it comes to shooting the moon.  Oh well. Can't be perfect at everything, can you?

Monday, 1 July 2019

Flashless Photography Indoors

It's been a little while since my last post, and I haven't been out and about with my camera as much as I would have liked. However, I did go to Herefordshire for a week and shot some pictures in and around Eastnor Castle, which was great.

I loved the Dining Room. The rich colours really came out in this shot.
I opted for a tight shot along the table rather than something more
general, as I thought it reflected the intimate atmosphere of the room.
f/2.8   ---   1/60 sec   ---   ISO 800   ---   24mm

Eastnor Castle is unusual in that the original family who built it still own it AND live there. They also allow visitors to bring their dogs in, which is rare indeed.
But much like other stately homes and such like, they do not allow flash photography inside the building. You can click away all day, but without a flash.
The staff member who told me about that eyed my camera with a wry smile. I guess he's used to people using their mobile phones and thought I would be stymied.

Well, I wasn't, although it wasn't the easiest shoot I've done. 

It's rather dark inside Eastnor Castle, much of it lit with very low powered lighting, so I knew I had my work cut out. The day was miserable, so what light did get in through the windows was murky and unhelpful.

I wanted to capture at least some of the vaulted ceiling in this room, which meant stacking
two carefully- shot panoramas vertically.
Unfortunately, Photoshop struggled a bit and it initially came out a bit Salvador Dali.
So eventually, I did it manually and I have to say, I am pleased with the result.

f/2.8   ---   1/60 sec   ---   ISO 800   ---   24mm
And of course I was just there as a tourist, so I had to keep out of everyone else's way, shooting during the gaps in groups of other tourists. With the weather being as it was, there were more of them inside the Castle than is usual (or so I was told). No coach parties though, which was a bonus.
I learned as I went round, adjusting exposure and ISO to get the best results.

The Library. This is a two-shot panorama. The ceiling looks a bit bowed but I was pleased with the overall result.
f/2.8   ---   1/80 sec   ---   ISO 800   ---   24mm
Shooting hand-held made it difficult to keep the shutter speeds down, but I wanted to keep the images as grain-free as I possibly could, so I set them as slow as I dared. Luckily for me, my hands were fairly steady that day.

This room is magnificent and goes right up through two floors with light coming in from above.
Another panorama. Three shots this time. There's a little distortion, but it's not too bad.

f/2.8   ---   1/80 sec   ---   ISO 800   ---   35mm
The results were mixed as you may imagine, but I was pleased to come away with some nice, warm shots. Not being afraid to use Lightroom and Photoshop, I have been able to create some really satisfying and colourful images - I have even made use of the automated panorama facility to get some wide shots in rooms where my lens angle was really too tight.

Anyway, enjoy these few images and if you want to see more, I have posted, along with others from that holiday, on both Facebook https://www.facebook.com/bkbimages/ 
and on Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/bkbimages/ 

Sunday, 28 April 2019

Time and Motion

F/2.8   ---   ¼ Sec ---   ISO 100   ---   67mm

I bought a couple of cheap so-called scientific toys
a little while ago, with the intention of photographing them. Well, eventually I found a spare couple of hours to set up a light box, a couple of flashes and a tripod and off I went.

f/16   ---   1 Sec   ---   ISO 100   ---   67mm

The intention was to freeze motion while capturing motion trails. For that you require a combination of flash and slow shutter speed.

f/11   ---   1 Sec   ---   ISO 100   ---   65mm

 As is my wont (and 35mm purists will no doubt shudder at this) I shot off a couple of hundred frames, messing about with all sorts of camera and flash settings, changing gels, re-positioning the subject and so on.

f/22   ---   10 Sec   ---   ISO 100   ---   65mm

I won't say that the results were disappointing - they weren't - but, well, there was no "wow" at the end of it all. More, "Yeah, that's ok I suppose."

f/22   ---   6 Sec   ---   ISO 100   ---   57mm

If I'm honest, I don't really know what I expected. I think that the environment wasn't quite right and I also think that my images do not display at their best on my rather elderly monitors.


f/22   ---   6 Sec   ---   ISO 100   ---   57mm

I'll no doubt have another go at something similar one day, but for now, these are a few of those that made the final cut, which was about a tenth of the whole shoot.


Saturday, 13 April 2019

Subtle Changes

One of the driving forces behind my photographic efforts is my fascination with the continually changing landscape of our local areas. I often shoot quite mundane scenes, just to record those changes.
For those who are interested, this is a preserved brewing vat outside the entrance to the Romford Brewery Trust car and retail parks. Romford, Essex, England, UK.
Less than two years on, this small area looks completely different.
I wonder how many drivers queueing for the car park even notice.

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Photographs for Posterity

I've always been interested in comparing old street photographs with the present day, in seeing how things have changed or, in some cases (fewer, it has to be said) have remained the same. And I sometimes just spend some time wondering what has gone on in those places in the meantime.

Which is why I am a bit addicted to photographing what to most people would seem mundane and even a bit boring. I often have my Point-and-Shoot camera with me, which is great for capturing street scenes when the DSLRs would only push somebody's Let's Take Offence For No Logical Reason Button. I've even been known to use the dreaded phone camera from time to time.

The Horace Cowlin Memorial Shelter on 15 February 2019
F/3.5  ---  1/500 sec  ---  ISO 100  ---  24mm
I took this photo just recently, (with my DSLR as it happened) in Valentine's Park, Ilford (London Borough of Redbridge for those who are interested). At first glance, it's just a park shelter, and a bit incongruous as it is the only one in that park. On closer inspection, I discovered that it is actually a memorial to a local man killed during the Battle of the Somme in 1916, and has been there since 1917. It's in pretty good nick for its age. I know it has been refurbished but other than that I know very little.

So that got me wondering about how he, Horace Cowlin, must have walked around this very lake, possibly on the day before he shipped off to France for the last time, maybe with his wife and family. What was he thinking about? His jewellery shop, maybe? How his family would get on without him? Whether he would come home and how things would be if he did?
And then I thought, why was this shelter put on this spot? Was there one there before? Was it a favourite spot of his?
I guess I could research these things and maybe one day I will. The records exist. But for now, I am content to be fascinated by the multitude of possibilities that this shelter presents.

Almost certainly, my own grandparents, who were sweethearts during the First World War and who moved to Ilford during the Second World War, walked in this park and maybe they sat together in this shelter. I wonder if they knew about Horace? They are no longer with us, so I guess I'll never know. 

So this is my photograph - just an addition to many that have been taken recently. Oddly enough, I can't find any earlier ones, and that's a shame. Maybe in a hundred years' time, somebody may look at this and compare it with what they can see then. I hope so.

Saturday, 23 February 2019

Mobile Phone Cameras

I'm not intending to rant, so if this comes out as such, I apologise.

In case you are unfamiliar with one of my particular prejudices, let me tell you what I think of Phone Cameras.

Not much.

It doesn't matter what electronic wizardry you pack inside the things, how much editing software you include (in what is supposed to be a phone) to con an increasingly gullible and materialistic public into spending unrealistic and obscene amounts of money, at the end of the day, they have:

(a) lenses and sensors which are smaller than and old-fashioned toothpaste cap.
(b) screens which you can't see properly in anything other than pitch darkness.
(c) the most awkward camera controls ever invented.
(d) a huge attractiveness to morons.

In the photographic food chain, mobile phone cameras are, in my opinion, plankton.

But that's not to say that they don't have their uses.
Stitching up innocent people for example.
Turning the world into 1930s Nazi Germany by recording everyone's slightest movement and reporting it to anyone who will listen so that all right-thinking PRIVATE citizens live in fear of so much as breathing at the wrong time...

Well anyway. Back to topic.

Yes, they do have their uses, as this picture shows. Sunsets wait for no-one and if the phone is the only camera you have handy, then they fill a gap.

f/1.9  ----  1/500 sec  ---  ISO 40  ---  3.6mm

ISO 40? Even my DSLRs can't get ISO 40 at f1.9! But then, with decent size lenses letting in a proper amount  of light, they don't need to.

Still. It was an amazing sunset, worth capturing.
But don't be fooled. This picture took a fair deal of post production, just to bring the drab in-camera image back to something approaching the glorious scene I was trying to record. It'll do, but that's about all, in my opinion.

There are some very skilled people who produce some incredible shots using phone cameras. And I say, "Congratulations and Respect to them."
But for every one of those, there are hundreds of know-nothings who get lucky once in a lifetime. And for every one of those, there are millions upon millions whose useless talentless dross chokes social media and other platforms.
"Photographs" which, in the days of film (remember the Kodak Instamatics?) would either have been returned from the lab with a "Low Quality" sticker on them or been consigned to the bin. Or more likely, and more to the point, not taken in the first place.

It is the mobile phone camera, and its easy accessibility to everyone with a thumb, whether they know the front of a lens from the back end of bullshit or not, that has largely reduced the position in society of the serious photographer, (amateur or professional) to no more than dubious eccentricity.

These days, to film everything at random and invade everyone's privacy with a mobile phone is normal and even acceptable, whilst creating a carefully framed shot, recording a good-quality image for posterity using skills and experience gained over years with top quality equipment is likely to get you labelled as some sort of pervert.

And that, as you might have guessed, pisses me right off!

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Grad Filters

I got this shot in what some might describe as "the old fashioned way."
That is, the colour effects were done in the camera rather than in Post. It was a miserable day, leaden skies, grey river, drizzly. Generally not very nice.
I had a couple of graduated filters in my bag so I decided to experiment. Well, why not? I rarely if ever use them and this seemed like a good time to try.

Tacking across the Thames at Purfleet, Essex
f/6.3  ---  1/250 sec  ---  ISO 200  ---  70mm  ---  Yellow Graduated Filter from the top
I used a tobacco-coloured filter to begin with, but that is very brown and just made a dull day duller, so I went with this yellow one instead.
When I first saw the result, my reaction was "Yeuch!" but I have to say that it has grown on me since. It's interesting if nothing else, and maybe the colour has something to say about the air quality in Greater London.

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Crush Yer Nuts!

Photographically speaking, I am not excessively proud of this image, but it serves to help me make a point - and it's not about photography.

Take a moment to look at this picture. You see a Sparrow about to make off with half a peanut.

Just look at the size of that nut, compared with the Sparrow's beak. Now he is a big boy and will probably be able to swallow that great lump. If not, his beak is well suited to giving it a good bash and breaking it up a bit.

But think of Sparrow chicks. Or Tit chicks. Or other kinds of small bird chicks. Already (second half of February) the Little Brown Jobs are starting to find places to nest. Eggs will follow and when they hatch, parents are going to be working in relays to feed their young. And although they do their best, they don't have the smarts to realise that a whole peanut, or even half a peanut, will choke their poor offspring to death in one meal. They are hard wired to feed their chicks at every opportunity.

So please, if you put out peanuts for the birds, as we do, start thinking about crushing them up, at least between April and September.

You really do only want a handful of nuts each time.
Otherwise it takes too long to chop them up and you're
left with more powder than nuts.
We use our blender for the job. But there's a method to doing that, that I have had to work out for myself. Because blenders are over-efficient for this sort of thing, if you put in too many at a time, and/or whizz for too long you'll end up with powder. So start off with just a handful. You don't even need to cover the blades. Then give three or four half-second whizzes. Let the nuts settle between times.

Of course, you'll have to do this several times to create enough chopped nuts to be of any use. Takes a while.

Okay, okay, but I never said it was a quick fix, did I?

We get some powder with this method, but there are still enough chopped bits to be useful. And it beats messing about with a rolling pin. You can use a colander to separate the powder out, and the bits can go in the nut feeder. The powder doesn't get wasted. We put it on a tray with seed and meal worms and it soon vanishes. But it does seem to put the birds off the peanut feeders, which is why we go to the trouble of separating it out.

Of course, you could just buy chopped or crushed peanuts. But that's the expensive way of doing it and anyway, where's the fun in that?

The powdery bits can be mixed with seed and/or meal worms, raisins etc and put on a tray or table, or they can be mixed up with beef fat to make fat balls,
or whatever you like that's good for the birds. And the crushed bits will go in your peanut feeder and help raise another generation of small birds.

Monday, 11 February 2019


F/5.6  ---  1/800 sec  ---  ISO 640  ---  300mm
It seems to me that Starlings sometimes get a bit of a bad press in the UK. They are noisy and argumentative and have a reputation for chasing smaller birds away.
But I think they are charming and their plumage is absolutely stunning. Worth remembering too that native Starling numbers in the UK have plummeted in recent years. The world would be a much poorer place without these beautiful birds.

Monday, 28 January 2019

Garden Birds

This Robin has become a regular visitor to our garden
this year. We have seen the occasional Robin in previous
years but just lately this one has popped in every day.

f/5.6 --- 1/3200 sec --- ISO 500 --- 400mm
Well, just as I suspected, I haven't had the time to blog that I would have liked to have had. Well, never mind. I did say it was going to be occasional.

Anyway, here are a couple of shots that I took of birds in my garden the other day. They suffer from too-high ISO and the fact that I was shooting through a window, but other than that they're not too bad.


Blue Tits are among our most regular
garden visitors. We see dozens every day.
They're starting to nest now so it will
soon be time to chop up those peanuts.

f/5.6 --- 1/1600 sec --- ISO 500 --- 222mm


Wednesday, 16 January 2019

A Summer's Afternoon in a Garden

An old Victorian laundry wringer, now discarded and being overgrown in a corner.
f/3.5 --- 1/800 sec --- ISO 100 --- 24mm

I had a lot of fun taking these pictures. It was really my first attempt at "crawling around a flower garden."
I'm not as agile as I'd like to be and lumping a big heavy camera around didn't make for an easy shoot.
But the day was warm and there was no time pressure -  for a change.
I was going to say that I quite like dereliction, but that wouldn't be true. To be honest, for the most part, it's an eyesore. But photographically, it can provide some very interesting subjects.
This wringer for example.
It has been gently rotting away, broken and unloved, probably for decades. But just there, at that moment, in that position with the bindweed growing through it, I thought it was just lovely and I couldn't resist shooting it from every conceivable angle.
This was the final result and I have used it many times, both as it is and in monochrome.

Cabbage White on a Purple Flower
f/4 --- 1/1000 sec --- ISO 100 --- 70mm

Ah, the Cabbage White Butterfly.
Bane of kitchen gardeners everywhere. The hours I have spent trying to protect my brassicas from these little devils!
But actually, when you get up close, and you haven't got any cabbages to worry about, they are actually quite beautiful.
I don't have any dedicated macro lenses, so I couldn't follow my ethos of getting up close and personal with my subject. Apart from anything else, every time I pointed my camera at one of these insects, it flew away.
I don't mind admitting that I was getting pretty fed up with almost capturing one. So when this one managed to stay still for a whole five seconds, I didn't waste a moment.
The shot didn't look like much on the camera's little screen, but I hope you'll agree, the full-size result was very pleasing.

Eryngium Bee Magnet
f/6.3 --- 1/640 sec --- ISO 100 --- 70mm

I have discovered that using a decent telephoto lens can produce results that are very close to what you might achieve with macro.
The "middle" lens of my three USM II lenses is 24-70mm, so it is, technically, a telephoto or zoom. But the maximum focal length is relatively short so I still had to get in reasonably close. Which could have been a problem around bees.
On this particular afternoon, the Eryngium were in full flower, and the bees could not have been less interested in me if they had tried. Which is just as well as I am seriously allergic to pain and I didn't fancy getting stung.
There are beehives in the corner of this particular garden and so the flowers were, quite literally crawling with the little chaps.
I have, perhaps, still a way to go with insect photography but I was pleased with the contrast between foreground and background in this shot.

Pollen Collection
f/7.1 --- 1/400 sec --- ISO 100 --- 70mm

This was taken on a different day, and in a different place, but I have included it because, to date, it is probably the best shot of an insect that I have taken. I think I would have liked it to have been facing towards me but, well, he wasn't taking direction at that particular moment!