Primeval Forest

Autumn morning deep in Kasuga Primeval Forest, Nara, Japan

Autumn morning deep in Kasuga Primeval Forest, Nara, Japan

Kasuga Primeval Forest is an old-growth forest on the eastern edge of Nara city. It’s actually registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is inhabited by wild boar, raccoons and Japanese deer. I have spent many peaceful hours up in the forest trying to capture the spirit of the ancient woodland, and no matter how long it takes, it’s pleasure just to be there. The deer are very tame and if you don’t make too many sudden movements, they seem quite happy to share the forest, even in the rutting season.

This was taken with a Sony a6000 and the kit lens that comes with the camera. I had to push the shutter speed to 1/200 in order to freeze the deer, so I had to use an aperture of f5.6 and ISO of 1000. That created quite a lot of noise but it was easily corrected in Lightroom.

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By Dawn’s Early Light

A deer in the early morning autumn light in Nara, Japan

A deer in the early morning autumn light in Nara, Japan

I remember reading that the best photo opportunities occur when most people are inside…either because it’s too early or because the weather is too bad. Yesterday morning, I set the alarm early intending to go for a run, but one look outside at the thick fog and I was out the door, camera bag in hand. Nara is not a very foggy place, and so it was an opportunity not to be missed.  This corner of the park is about 10 minutes from our front door by bike…I’m lucky to live in such a gorgeous place!

I ended up with 112 images in less than 3 hours before the fog cleared completely, and this is one of the last one’s I took before the mist finally cleared. Some minor adjustments in Lightroom followed by some layering and final cropping in Photoshop. This was taken with the same kit lens that I dropped in the local pond last month, and it’s showing no ill effects so far. This was an exposure of 1/250 second taken at f8.0, with the lens zoomed all the way in at 50mm.

In Memoriam

Stonehaven War Memorial

The Milky Way soars over the Stonehaven War Memorial, Aberdeenshire, Scotland.

This is a location I’ve been visiting for years, trying to get the right composition. The Stonehaven War Memorial sits on the Black Hill just to the south of the town. Looking north, the light pollution from Aberdeen is quite bad, but looking south, the situation is better. The Milky Way is visible at all times of the year, but in the northern hemisphere, it’s best in summer because the galactic core (the brighter part of the Milky Way) is visible near Sagittarius. The main issue in Scotland is waiting for clear skies, and finally I managed to get a nice clear evening.

This was taken with the Sony a6000 with a Rokinon 12mm f2.0 prime on a very lightweight Manfrotto tripod. The Black Hill is a windy place, so I had to position my body in front of the camera to block the wind and stop it moving the tripod. This is a composite image of two exposures; one at 4000 ISO for the sky and one at 800 ISO for the memorial itself.

The Rokinon is a super lens for widefield astrophotography – sharp to the corners not too much chromatic aberration. I bought it after reading Ian Norman’s review over on the excellent website Lonely Speck: Here

Of course, with astrophotography, taking the image is only the first step – there then follows many hours of post-processing. For this, the tutorials on Lonely Speck were also very useful, and I found a huge amount of information (and Lightroom Presets) on David Kingham’s amazing website: here.

I processed this image in Lightroom using the presets and tools from David Kingham’s website mentioned above then made final adjustments in Photoshop. Overall, I’m happy with the end result, but looking at the quality of work on the websites mentioned above, I think I have a long way to go…

The Tea House

Japanese Tea House

The old Mizuya Chaya tea house in Nara Park, Nara, Japan

The old Mizuya Chaya tea house is one of the most beautiful spots in Nara Park, and I’m lucky enough to pass it every weekend on my morning run. The website is here.

It opened in 1948 and nestles amongst the trees between Kasuga Grand Shrine and Wakakusa Hill. For a long time, I’d thought about the possibility of getting a photo of it, but when the sun was shining, it didn’t seem to create the right atmosphere. I decided to give it a try when the weather was not so good and I think it works much better. This was taken on a very hot and humid rainy day in July 2014. Even on a day like that, it is very popular with tourists, so I had to take several different frames with tourists in different places and then blend them together with layer masks to remove them from the finished shot. It’s a technique I learned from a very good post over on Jimmy McIntyre’s excellent website. Link here.

This was taken with a Sony a6000 and the kit lens that came with the camera (E 16-50mm f3.5-5.6 OSS) at a focal length of 16mm. Exposure was 0.5 seconds at f13.

I hope the finished photo captures the magical quality of this really gorgeous spot.

Tower Traffic

Tower Bridge London

I love Tower Bridge. Since visiting as a child, I’ve always been attracted to the combination of the Victorian engineering and Gothic style. At night, it becomes quite magical, although it’s such an icon, it’s hard to find something original to photograph. I decided to try to get a sense of the amazing lines of the bridge, and wondered if capturing the lights of the traffic might add something to it. A passing London bus added a few more interesting red lights…

Perspective

Natural-History-Museum
One of the most beautiful buildings in London, and free to enter! The view from the top floor of the Natural History Museum is amazing. It was very busy when I visited on a Sunday afternoon, but I set up the camera and took a series of photos over around 5 minutes. Then I layered them and blended them selectively. From each frame, I used the section of the stairs that had no people in it. After doing that for each frame, I was able to slowly remove all the people from the stairs and the ground floor. Each frame was exposed at f22 and 1/3 of a second, at 100 ISO. Because of the longer shutter speed, I used the timer and my new Manfrotto Pocket Tripod.
http://www.manfrotto.com/manfrotto-pocket-series
Absolutely great, as the Museum doesn’t allow tripods…

Under Westminster Bridge

Thames-Westminster-London

It’s always important to keep an open mind and learn from other photographers. While in London, I took a walk along the South Bank and noticed another photographer crouched in the passageway under Westminster Bridge. He had found the perfect angle for the situation and I took over his spot after he left. The low winter sun bouncing off the warm stone gave a lovely glow and the view of the Palace of Westminster through the archway was very nice. I didn’t have my tripod, so this was a handheld shot at 100 ISO and f6.7, with a shutter speed of 1/90. Usually that is too slow, but I braced myself on the wall behind and tried to hold my breath as I took the shot. To my surprise, it turned out reasonably well. I tried to bring out the warm tones a little in LR and overall, I really like the end result.

Dunnottar Morning

Stonehaven Aberdeenshire

I’m very fortunate to come from a very beautiful part of the country, and whenever I return to that area, I always take a walk up by Dunnottar Castle. This summer, I had bad jet lag and woke at 4:30am to discover a thick fog blanketing the town. I put my Sony a6000 and a GorillaPod in a running backpack and ran up to the castle and was luck enough to catch some of the mist still hanging around. This shot was taken at f11 to try to get the foreground and castle both in focus. I set the camera at 100 ISO, which resulted in a shutter speed of 1/3 of a second, due to the low light. I hope it captures the dramatic atmosphere of this beautiful place…

Misty Morning

Westminster-Morning

The Thames is at its best on a misty December morning. This section of the river has always attracted me for some reason. I don’t know what it is about it, but perhaps it’s something to do with the contrast between the vibrancy of the South bank and the pomp of the North.
Anyway, I was lucky enough to have some free time on a business trip to London so I took the Tube to Piccadilly and walked through Soho and down through Trafalgar Square looking for inspiration. Although it was after 10, I noticed that there was still quite a lot of mist around so I headed down towards the Thames and found a good spot on the Golden Jubilee Bridge on the Westminster side of Hungerford Bridge. There was still quite a lot of cloud around but the sun was starting to break through. I quickly got a few shots before the light changed. This one was taken on Aperture Priority at f11 and 100 ISO to try to keep the noise down, which gave me a shutter speed of 1/500. The light and mist seemed to evoke memories of Victorian London, and so I tried to bring out those slightly sepia tones in Lightroom.

Gotham Grand Front

Osaka Grand Front Umeda Night

Between the big buildings
I sat like a flea crouched
In the stopped works of a watch

– W.S.Graham

For some time now, I’ve been following Jimmy McIntyre and his particular style of cityscapes is quite inspiring.

http://www.throughstrangelenses.com

I wanted to try out some of his techniques and I thought that perhaps the skyscrapers in the Umeda area of Osaka might be a place to try. There’s something about Osaka that is strongly reminiscent of Bladerunner, Gotham or other dystopian visions. It’s ironic really, as it’s quite a nice place, if a little impersonal. Anyway, after looking at various angles, I came to a crossing beside the Grand Front South Tower and it seemed to have the atmosphere that I was looking for. It’s sad that with all this amazing architecture in the area, few people seem to look up; a few people even seemed to be confused about why I would want to photograph it…
I set the aperture to f16 to give me a wide depth of field and put the camera on a lightweight tripod to allow me to set the camera at 100 ISO to keep the levels of noise down. That gave me a shutter speed of 10 seconds, and although at meant that the people at the bottom of the shot blurred out a bit, I don’t think it detracts too much from the shot. The building has a very futuristic look to it, so I tried to bring out some of the blue/grey tones in Lightroom while keeping a little more warmth towards the bottom of the frame. Overall, I’m reasonably happy with the result, but it’s just a first attempt at this kind of thing and I think there is plenty of room for improvement.