Monday, 25 February 2013

Let It Snow (Angel Of The North)

Sometimes you have to take chances and push the limits to get the shots you want. Sometimes you win, sometimes you don't. Last weekend was one of those 'Shall I bother' or 'Shall I not' moments, when the weather was awful and driving conditions were far from ideal. The snow fell from 11.30pm on Friday and continued throughout the night, with no let-up when I left my home at 9.30am on Saturday. Destination - Angel Of The North, Gateshead, Tyne & Wear. Between Houghton le Spring and the A1 Motorway junction at Chester le Street, the roads were awful and it was snail's pace all the way, not wanting to join other abandoned cars at the roadside. Oh don't you just love those blizzard conditions, when some motorists couldn't give a flying fcuk and drive as if it were a Summer's day. There's always the odd Arsehole behind the wheel and it's normally me that has a run-in with him (or her), so it was of no surprise when one fine example cut me up shortly after I joined the A1, ah well... jog on! No time for getting worked up, there's work to be done. And a few minutes later I was on site, with the Angel towering above me, getting a rather good lashing from the snow. A mini bus of full foreign folk pulled in and in no time they were coated up and walking towards the sculpture, snapping away as they went. After a few minutes of posing for group shots they were off, heading back to their warm mini bus. As they started to make there way back down the path I took my first shot (shown here, top). Lots of trees had been felled since my last visit - god only knows why, as the classic view of the Angel, flanked at either side by trees was now a thing of the past. Trees sat to the left, but not the right, they were gone!

I've been saying for a while that people often 'Make' this type of shot, as a sense of scale is important, versus the subject itself. And the people kept on coming and unknowingly offering themselves as extras. It was a straightforward case of waiting for them to position themselves where I wanted them in the frame. And that they did, making my composition 'Just right.' The snow continued to fall, which can be clearly seen against the dark backdrop of the Angel, adding a little extra to the shots, and by now making me realise that today's outing, despite the weather conditions, was well worth the effort. Sheltering my camera was a task in itself, as the snow swirled around me, making it virtually impossible to keep it dry. Next time I'll have to think on. But I was determined to leave with the shots I wanted, so the camera took a kicking and I grabbed my last few shots before getting back into the car to give it a good wipe down. The toes were aching, numb they were, but that's the price you pay, I suppose. Crack on!

No sooner was I back home and I was reviewing my work in Photoshop CS6, ready to pick one out and email it to Tyne-Tees Television - surely they'd like to use one on today's Weather Bulletin. And so they did, just four hours later. I'll upload the video clip, along with two other recent ones, and you can view them here on my Blog page, next time. Until then, catch ya later. Cheers.


Saturday, 23 February 2013

A Frosty Herrington Park

A couple of days ago I was up bright and early and heading towards 'The Barber Shop' in Shiney Row, a ten minute drive from home. Yes, the old mullet needed a trim and an early morning visit usually beats the queue's, so off I went. I chucked the camera bag into the boot of the car on the off-chance that I might get a couple of half decent shots in the nearby Herrington Country Park, especially as there was a covering of frost on the deck. After my short back and sides (and nowt off the top), I drove the short distance to the almost deserted park, in bright sunshine it has to be said. Cold it certainly was. Still getting to grips with the new camera, but coming along very nicely. Not much else to report, just some new photo's from my brief visit to Herrington Park. Without further ado...


Heavy snow here in County Durham this morning. The Mackem Photographer was roaming again, before the snow thawed. Bad conditions on the A1(M), but hey, who dares wins! Some nice snow scenes up next, folks. As always, stay tuned...

Monday, 18 February 2013

Canon 5D MkII - More Test Shots

Hello again.
A few hours ago I was out and about once again, testing out my new camera at Newcastle Quayside. This was my third run out with the 5D MkII, following two previous outings to Seaham Harbour, County Durham, and like my last blog entry, I was on the hunt for more low-light photographs. I can safely say, after just three batches of test shots, this camera is unreal, especially the 24-105mm Luxury Lens, as it once again pulled in some brilliant tack sharp images. And no sooner did I process those images and I'm already planning my next jaunt, which is the effect this camera is having on me. It's slick, smooth and worth every penny of ones 'Hard earned.' So it looks very much like my Newcastle Quayside At Night gallery will be getting a revamp, as my new images will replace old ones and there will be more on the way. I'll be making more visits to this location in the next few weeks, so keep an eye open for more of the same, very soon. A new battery grip has been added to the kit bag, but one thing that I missed tonight was a Wide Angle Lens, following the sale of my 10-22mm EFS, which wasn't compatible with the EF mount I'm now running with on the full frame 5D MkII. So, it looks like I'll be shopping around for a Wide! Anyway, it's knocking on for 12.30am, so I'll have to call it a day - the fart sack awaits!

In the meantime, here is tonights shots...
Click to enlarge.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Seaham Harbour, Revisited

It was seven days ago when I put my Canon 5D MkII to the test for the very first time at Seaham Harbour, County Durham (See my recent blog entry here). Today I revisited that same location, and although the weather conditions were similar, there were no big waves, but a much calmer North Sea. Because of this, the pier gate was open to all, so the vantage point I wanted was very much up for grabs. I passed through the open gate an hour before sunrise, giving me ample time to set my gear up to prepare for what would hopefully be a good sunrise at 7.41am. I had an odd feeling as I walked along the first stretch of concrete, bearing in mind the battering this pier received a week ago from those 80 foot waves. There was evidence of more recent waves too, judging by the many pools of saltwater I passed as I walked further along a pier of ageing concrete, peppered with pot-holes galore. These add to the character of Seaham Pier and most definitely give the photographer food for thought when looking to add some foreground interest to the frame. Many a Seascape composition 'Checked out' with good foreground detail, and I was ready to join the list of those like-minded folk who had made the same mental prep's before getting down to work. I wasn't alone on the pier, as I chatted to another photographer for a while before the sun showed up. He too was hoping to pull in some good sunrise shots, so we stood almost side by side, waiting for something to happen. His dog was standing on the edge of the pier, gazing down into the icy water, causing a worrying distraction for his master. Several shouts eventually brought the hound back to safer ground, although it wasn't long before he was off again and looking to engage in more mischief. 'Jasper, come here man, are ya friggin deaf or summat' was the sudden holler, much to my amusement, but the docile mutt never flinched as its eye was transfixed on the waters below, which appeared to be stirring up somewhat, despite the outgoing tide.

More chat followed, covering aspects of photography and social sharing sites like Flikr. He showed me a few of his shots on a mobile phone, which were female models under specialist indoor lighting. Quite impressive they were too. By this time I was kinda wishing I was indoors myself, as my hands were almost numb and the toes were having none of it. The sunrise wasn't too far away, so after 45 minutes of good photo-chat and zero minutes of photography, I reluctantly decided to move on as I was being distracted far too easily for my liking. At this point I took my first real shots, following two or three earlier test efforts. The situation was tailor made for my Lee ND filters, so out they came, along with their filter holder, and immediately the f-stop calculations were being made. I was up and running at last, with no distraction, and the shots were beginning to roll in. A combination of two filters, 0.6 and a 0.9 soft grad were used, stacked in the filter holder, delivering some great shots as cloud colour peaked in front of me. These filters are most definitely 'The doggies danglers' and a must for every serious landscape photographer - expensive, but worth every penny. Balancing exposure between shade and highlights is a very important part of exposure, so the need to introduce Neutral Density Grad's is very often a wise one, resulting in the type of shots shown here.

The sun rose on the horizon at 7.41am, as predicted on my Weather Channel app. I've included three shots here. A pre-sunrise shot, another when the sun appeared, plus a Black and White conversion - hope you like them. At 8.00am I was off Seaham Pier and climbing back into the car. On came the heated leather seat, once again, a regular feature during these cold Winter mornings. And that was it, another job done, another Sunrise outing, another freezing arse - but not for long, he he.

Might be out again tomorrow, some time, some place, putting this fantastic camera through its paces once again. This Canon 24-105mm L series lens is ridiculously sharp, although slight distortion at its widest setting, which is easily corrected with a single mouse click in post-processing. A new era of photography is under way, so let's see what I can pull in with the Canon 5D MkII. Judging by the photo's shown here, it's gonna be a smooth ride. Let's hope so. And on that note I shall bid thee farewell until the next time. Ta ta for now.


Sunday, 3 February 2013

Canon 5D MkII - First Test Shots

As promised, here is a handful of test shots that I captured yesterday with my new camera. The location was Seaham Harbour, County Durham, a fifteen minute drive from my home in Houghton le Spring. The weather forecast on my mobile phone was accurate enough, predicting a cloudy and windy day, with the odd burst of sunshine. Wind direction was ideal for some big waves, breaking over a pier, so I decided to check the tide tables for Seaham. I was in luck, the tide was incoming around mid-day, so I expected ideal conditions around tea-time when the sea was high and Seaham Pier would be on the wrong end of a good old battering - well, hopefully, but more often than not the roaming photographer doesn't get what he wants. With nothing to lose, and the overwhelming itch to get my first run out with my new toy, I was quickly on the road and heading to the coast. As I reached the junction near Seaham Hall I got my first glimpse of the North Sea. It didn't look at all menacing, despite the dodgy weather, but as I drove along the coast road towards the harbour I could see some big waves rolling towards the beach. Hmm, I might hit lucky here. I parked up on the promenade opposite the shops and walked the short distance towards the cliff top, excited at the prospect of testing out the 5D MkII for the very first time. Looking across towards Seaham Pier I could see some big breakers bashing against the pier walls, which was exactly what I was looking for, so my decision to check the weather conditions on my mobile phone proved to be a good one. From a decent vantage point I still didn't have enough reach with my 24-105mm lens, so I fitted the 70-300mm telephoto and pulled in the first shot (shown here).

Focus lock was instant, with no hunting, even though I was spot focusing on the lighthouse, which was quite small in the frame due to the composition I had chosen. One click and the shutter fired - the image review was also instant, fading in from almost black to the perfectly exposed final image, which is a nice extra feature that the 7D never had. I was running with Quick Burst, 3 frames per second, capturing the waves at different formations, giving me the opportunity to cherry-pick the best hots from the bunch. A fast shutter and Auto ISO was chosen in P setting, which worked very well in these conditions. I got a soaking as I photographed next to the pier wall, taking a few on the back as I shielded the camera under my jacket. Very happy with what I got. Hopefully the start of many more.
I'll be back soon with more test shots and feedback, so stay tuned...

Thanks, Ash


Saturday, 2 February 2013

Out With The Old...

Welcome back! It's been a while...

Apologies for the lack of activity here at, 2013 hasn't even started, at least in photography terms. I never captured one single photograph in January due to other commitments, but I aim to make amends following a recent decision to sell most of my camera equipment. After a lot of deliberation during the last few weeks of 2012, I decided to upgrade my camera and migrate to full frame, at long last. I sold the Canon 7D...and the battery grip...and the 18-135mm lens...and the 10-22mm wide angle lens, which really wasn't as bad an experience as I thought it would be, as that kit pulled in some brilliant shots and I was quite reluctant to move it on - if it ain't broken, and all that. After careful consideration I eventually made my move, bringing home a brand spanking new Canon 5D MkII, and what a smart piece of kit it is! Mind you, it's not there to gaze at, either is the 24-105mm L series lens that came with it, yet it stood idle for just over a week before I put it through its paces. I've been wanting to join the 'Full-Frame Brigade' for some time now, even though the 7D, with its 1.6x crop sensor served me well, and I remember being torn between the 5D MkII and the 7D last time around, but played safe with a 7D purchase. Anyone who is familiar with full-frame bodies will be well aware that the accompanying glass doesn't come cheaply, which was the main factor in me opting for a 7D three years ago. Being in a much stronger position now, it was full steam ahead and after a brief dabble with its settings I was off and running once again, which was a nice feeling, especially when sliding slowly into February with no photography behind me for a full month. So, a few things to mention about the new kit...

First and foremost I expected, and noticed a big difference in what the 5D MkII can 'See' compared to the trusty and now departed 7D. There is so much more subject in the frame, so I'll be in no hurry to add a new wide angle lens unless It's really necessary, and that won't come cheaply either. I'm already eyeing up Tokina glass, but no concrete plans to buy until I see what the camera can deliver in all aspects of my photography, especially indoors and for those outdoor wide-angle shots. Canon makes cameras with three different sized image sensors. Full-frame digital cameras use a sensor the same size as 35mm film. Full-frame is the way to go if you have the choice. Consumer 1.6x cameras have a sensor 1.6x smaller than 35mm film. Obsolete Canon professional 1.3 x cameras used a sensor 1.3x smaller than 35mm film. The sensors in these cameras are the same as 35mm film: 24 x 36mm. To get more of an understanding of what this means through the eyepiece, here is an illustration explaining crop factors -

So there you have it, and you will most probably agree that there's a lot more subject in the frame, which comes at a price, but what the heck, you're only alive once. Another pixel hike takes me up to 21, from 18, although that's neither here or there in the bigger scheme of things. ISO capability with the 5D MkII now gives me the option of photographing a black cat in a coal mine, if necessary, and although I'm a black cat (Sunderland supporter) through and through, sadly, coal mines are now a thing of the past in the North-East of England, so I'll have to give that one a miss. Another reason for migrating to full-frame was to get my hands on those top of the range L lenses - not cheap, but worth every penny. My old 18-135mm EF lens served me well, catering for my needs at during that particular 'Era', but times change and so does the photographer, so, without further ado...

What is the Canon "L" Lens Series?
Good question - and many answers exist, but it is Canon's professional line (though used extensively by non-professionals) of EOS EF auto focus 35mm SLR and DSLR still camera lenses. Some say L stands for "Low Dispersion" - achieved by the UD lens elements found in these lenses. But, the true answer is probably "L" is for "Luxury".

Watch the sidelines at the next professional sporting event you attend or watch on TV. Look for the identifying L-lens red stripe around the end of the photographers' camera lenses. These are the people who make a living with their equipment - and they frequently trust the Canon L Lens Series for their income.

About their L lenses, Canon says "these lenses use special optical technologies [such as] Ultra-low Dispersion UD glass, Super Low Dispersion glass, Fluorite elements, and Aspherical elements to truly push the optical envelope."

OK so what does that mean - practically speaking?
What you can get when you use Canon L lenses (if you do your part right) are amazing pictures. In fact, this amazement is said to cause a disease know as "L-Disease". Once caught, it is incurable. You will have to buy Canon L lenses in all of the focal lengths you use. AND you will be happy (and I hope you know that I am not being totally serious).

Finally, two photographs of my new camera, taken on my mobile phone, which also has an 'L' lens (In this instance, 'L' stands for 'Loada_Sh*t'). Pardon the French, folks. And I'll be back tomorrow with my first batch of shots from the all new and exciting Canon 5D MkII and 24-105mm L series lens, with IS (Image Stabilisation). Until then...