Landscapes and Post-Industrial South Wales

Stuart enjoys taking great photos and uncovering the stories behind them.

His main photography project is Merthyr Road - a look at the history and the legacy of the industrialisation of the South Wales Valleys.

Towards Pontypridd

I went back up to Abercanaid this morning and shot some additional shots of the Graig Chapel Burial Ground. In my original diary entry, one of the lessons I learned was that I hadn’t shot enough coverage – I had no shots of the Burial Ground as a whole, nor really of how the Burial Ground fits in to the surrounding area.

You can see the four additional shots as part of my photo set on Flickr.

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Weaning Off Of Automatic Mode

Posted by Stuart Herbert on March 18th, 2007 in Technique.

They say that buses come in threes, and this month I’ve had three friends asking me how to take the first steps away from their cameras’ automatic mode (commonly called Program Mode on Nikon cameras) and start taking photos like “real” photographers. It seems like the perfect topic to start a new series of posts about photographic technique, so here goes 🙂

First off, just a disclaimer before I go any further. I don’t want anyone thinking I’m something that I’m not 🙂 I’m very definitely an amateur photographer. I’ve had no formal training, and I’m certainly not qualified to teach photography. If you want to know how things “should be done”, so to speak, then enroll on a course. I’m sure that there’ll be plenty of suitable night courses in your area, and, of course, there is always Amateur Photographer’s home study course. Or, you could pick up a good book by a real expert. I always recommend Michael Langford’s Basic Photography. What I’m talking about here in these Technique posts are how I work with the camera, and what works for me.

If you’re okay with that, then read on!

What Is Automatic Mode?

A camera’s automatic mode is exactly what it sounds like: you point the camera at what you want to photograph, and the camera makes all the other decisions for you. Most compact digital cameras only have an automatic mode. Larger digital SLRs all come with automatic modes, as well as the ability for you to take more control should you wish. SLRs have built in databases of many thousands of photographic scenes, and it’s often said that SLRs can make better decisions than many photographers.

Using automatic mode is point-and-shoot photography. And there’s nothing wrong with it. Don’t think for a minute that you’re not a “real photographer” just because you currently use automatic mode. I don’t even know what a “real photographer” is, or why anyone would want to be one. If you’re taking photos on automatic mode, and you’re happy with the results, then be happy.

What Does Automatic Mode Do?

There are two key decisions that automatic mode makes for you:

  • It controls the size of the iris (photographers call this the aperture) in the camera lens. The iris controls the amount of light that the camera sees, and has the side effect of controlling the angle that the light hits your camera’s sensor.
  • It also controls how long (in time) that the camera sees the light from the lens. There is a blackout screen inside the camera called the shutter. When the shutter is open, your camera sees light. The longer the shutter is open, the longer your camera sees the light.

A well-exposed shot is a combination of balancing the aperture size against the shutter speed. As the aperture size gets smaller, the camera needs to see more light (the shutter needs to be open longer) in order to get enough light to create a photograph. Equally, the longer the shutter is open, the smaller the aperture needs to be to prevent too much light ruining the photograph. It’s a balancing act between the two.

A lot of the art in photography comes from taking control of one (or both) of these key decisions from the camera, and putting that control into your own hands.

Other Modes On Your Camera

Traditionally, SLR cameras have come with a total of four different camera modes:

  • Automatic mode – where the camera controls both shutter speed and aperture size.
  • Aperture priority mode – where you control the aperture size, and the camera controls the shutter speed.
  • Shutter priority mode – where you control the shutter speed, and the camera controls the aperture size.
  • Manual mode – where you make all the decisions, and all the mistakes 🙂

So-called “consumer” level SLRs also often come with additional automatic modes for landscape, portraits, sports, night photography, and so on. My camera of choice – the Nikon D200 – does not include these modes, and I won’t mention them any further here.

Why You Might Want To Move Away From Automatic Mode

Most of the people I know want to move away from automatic mode because they somehow feel that they are “cheating” by letting the camera make the decisions. Well, I’ve never yet met a camera that decided what it should shoot and when. A camera is a tool in the hands of a human photographer, simple as that. You’re already making many important decisions, even if you don’t realise it. If you’re getting photos that you like, then don’t worry about it. You’re not cheating.

The right reason to move away from automatic mode is to take more creative control over your photography.

Taking The First Step – Switching To Aperture-Priority Mode

When I first began taking photos, my friend Hugh had me start with aperture-priority mode. Although I personally shoot mostly in shutter-priority mode today, the majority of fellow amateur photographers that I’ve spoken to prefer aperture-priority mode.

By controlling the aperture size, you take control over the depth of field that can be seen in the final photograph. The depth of field is the term that photographers use to describe the area of your picture that is in focus. If you imagine that the item you’re focusing on is slap bang in the middle of the depth of field, then the depth of field extends in a straight line from there towards your camera, and also from there away from your camera. Items outside the depth of field appear blurred in the final photograph.

A larger aperture (such as F/2.8 – F/6.3) creates a smaller depth of field (photographers call this a shallow depth of field). The depth of field only extends a short distance either side of the area of your picture that is in focus (photographers call this area the focal point). This allows you to deliberately blur things like the background of a photograph, allowing the main subject to stand out a lot more than it would otherwise.

A smaller aperture (such as F/11 – F/22) creates a larger depth of field. The depth of field extends a longer distance in front of (and behind) the focal point of your picture. This allows your picture to include detail not just from the main subject, but also from whatever is around it too. Larger depths of field are particularly useful for landscape photographers looking to capture as much of the landscape as they can see.

As a rule of thumb, I find that an aperture size of F/5.6 creates a depth of field (very) roughly like what the human eye sees when looking at something up to 10 metres or so away, and F/11 creates a depth of field (very) roughly like what the human eye sees when looking at distance objects such as a wonderful landscape view.

Don’t Forget The Balancing Act!

In aperture-priority mode, the camera automatically adjusts the shutter speed for you, using information from the built-in light meter to ensure that your photograph is correctly exposed. As you change the aperture, the camera changes the shutter speed.

If the shutter speed gets too low, then the photograph you take will be blurred. The blurring happens because we are holding the camera, and we can’t hold the camera absolutely still. One way to solve this problem is to always use a tripod. Even the best tripods are cumbersome, have to be carried about, and the whole rigmarole of setting up the tripod just to take one photo can kill the fun of amateur photography. Another option is to make sure that the shutter speed is always high enough for shooting hand-held.

As a rule of thumb, I never shoot hand-held at a speed of less than 1/80 – that’s one eightieth of a second. With lenses zoomed in more than 80mm, the minimum speed goes up accordingly – so, at 400mm zoom, I’m looking for a speed of 1/400. It’s not always sunny enough to get that sort of speed, which is where lenses with built-in image stabilisation start to become very useful!

At first, you’ll probably forget to check your shutter speed, and end up with quite a few blurred photos. Don’t worry about it! Keep practising, and it will stick in the end. Until it does, you have the advantage that you’re shooting digitally. Just imagine what it was like when I started photography shooting on chemical film. Digital makes it much easier to practice new techniques over and over until you’re comfortable with them.

Making The Move To Other Modes

As mentioned above, I shoot mostly in shutter-priority mode these days. I combine that with the Nikon D200’s extremely handy auto-ISO mode to get as many sharp images as I’m able to. In my next technique article, I’ll talk about my one and only wedding shoot that I did back in 2003, and why the next feature you need to master on your digital SLR is digital’s unique ability to change the ISO setting between each shot.

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The Graig Chapel Burial Ground, Abercanaid

View all of the photos from this shoot as part of my Merthyr Road collection on Flickr.

After the extremely wet weekend the week before, I was determined to get out and about this weekend, and to continue my exploration of the old Glamorganshire Canal route between Merthyr and Cardiff. Guided by the excellent Glamorganshire and Aberdare Canals book, I headed north to Merthyr and traced the canal route south from Chapel Row.

At Abercanaid, I came across the remains of the Graig Chapel burial ground (the east side of Graig Road, the whole section north of Anthony Grove). I’m not exactly sure when the Chapel itself was demolished; it appears to have been still standing in 1996, and it appears to have been demolished due to subsidence. Looking at the photos from 1996, it looks like the burial ground wasn’t adjacent to the Chapel, but without more research I don’t know enough to say for certain.

Today, the burial ground has gone to ruin. Many of the headstones either lie flat in the undergrowth, or have been vandalised and are no longer there. During my visit, I spotted about half a dozen headstones still standing, and I did my best to record the names on the surviving headstones.

Tomorrow, the headstones will be gone. Glenn Kitchen, represented by Hugh James Solicitors of Merthyr Tydfil, has posted notice under the Disused Burial Grounds (Amendment) Act 1981 that he will remove the human remains, headstones and other memorials for re-internment at Pant Cemetery, Dowlais, on 4th May 2007. It is his intention to “erect a building for residential use” where the burial ground currently stands.

Thoughts On The Day

As I came south along the old canal towpath into Abercanaid, it wasn’t the burial ground that caught my eye. On the opposite side of Graig Road stands a pretty detatched house, and it was that house that I originally stopped to photograph.

I’m not sure how I feel about the intention to turn the burial ground into a residential building. I’m not religious, and when my time comes I’d rather be cremated. I don’t particularly want my remains to go into the ground. But, on the flip side, there are plenty of other folks who feel differently, and I was certainly distressed that the local authorities had allowed the burial ground to end up in the condition it is in today.

It’s my intention to return to Graig Road over the coming months to make a record of the building that Glenn will build on this spot. I’m curious to see what sort of house ends up there. It’s not often you stumble across a small piece of history in time to record it happening.

Favourite Photo From The Shoot

House And HeadstoneThis photo showing one of the surviving gravestones, with the house on the opposite side of Graig Road, is my favourite photo from this shoot. I like the crispness of the image and the general tonal range of the shot (although the blown highlight of the side of the building lets it down a bit).

Three Lessons From The Shoot

  • Shoot enough coverage! Lord knows I didn’t. I only have one shot of the plot as a whole, and only one shot showing where the plot sits in relation to its surroundings. That simply isn’t enough. I’ll be going back as soon as opportunity allows to bag some additional shots to complete this shoot.
  • Pay attention to your highlight warnings. Most of the scenes that I shot of the weekend contained shadows and highlights that stretched my D200 beyond its limits. It’s easy enough in Aperture to recover information from the shadows, but blown highlights simply don’t contain any information at all. The usual technique for dealing with this problem is to fit a neutral density gradiated filter (aka an ND grad). I don’t have any ND grads to fit the large diameter of my Sigma 15-30mm lens. Instead, I stopped down by a third (or often more), to try and limit the blown highlights to just the open sky instead.
  • Don’t limit yourself to just one attempt at a shot. I’m not saying go snap-happy – I don’t believe in the idea of quantity over quality – but do remember that you’re shooting digitally. You can take as many shots as you want, and all it costs you (worst case) is a little bit of time to edit out the really rubbish ones on-site (to avoid having no room to take any more shots). If, like me, you prefer to shoot in RAW mode, 8 Gb cards are now very affordable. I reckon you could fit something like 600+ compressed RAW images on a single 8 Gb card.

Post Production

The workflow I briefly mentioned a few weeks ago is working out well for me. I’ve picked up a copy of ScreenSteps, and I hope to post a tutorial about this before the end of March.

Found On Flickr

I’ve been unable to find any photos of Abercanaid on Flickr for this week’s blog posting. As well as using Flickr’s normal search facility, I also tried looking at the geotagged photos map. Although the map insists that there are 9,500+ photos taken in the Merthyr Tydfil area, not a single one actually appeared on the map at all 🙁

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Iron Bridge Road in Tongwynlais - A Photo by Stuart Herbert

View these photos as part of my Merthyr Road set on Flickr. Or, if you prefer, view a map with everyone’s photos taken in the same area.

Although many folks around here know about the remains of the old Glamorganshire Canal preserved at Forest Farm, I doubt that many folks know that there’s still a small stretch of the canal still in existence by Tongwynlais, cut in half by the M4 motorway as it heads west from Junction 32 and the Coryton Roundabout. The route down from Tongywnlais along the Taff Trail and then back to Tongwynlais via the Coryton Roundabout makes for an enjoyable – if very muddy! – circular walk that can be done in an hour or two.

Aim Of The Shoot

Page 144 of the award-winning The Glamorganshire and Aberdare Canals – Volume 2 by Stephen Rowson & Ian I. Wright (ISBN 1-903-59912-1) has a photograph of a steam train crossing a bridge at Middle Lock. The note accompanying the photograph states that the remains of the bridge still exists beside a section of the canal cut off by the M4 to the north and the Forest Farm Industrial Estate access road to the south.

I was out to find and photograph this section of the canal.

Thoughts On The Day

Either last year or the year before, Kristi and I cycled the Taff Trail from Taffs Well down to Cardiff and back. At no time did we realise that there were any remains of the old canal nearby; we certainly didn’t know that at one point our path took us to within 100 yards of a surviving stretch.

You can actually see the stretch on this Google map. The Taff Trail comes south down Iron Bridge Road, under the A470, and then turns north-west (right as you look at things) following Iron Bridge Road around a local playing field. However, after emerging from under the A470, if you turn south-east (left as you look) instead, the path beside the picnic area leads straight to a section of the canal, I’d say no more than 200 yards from where you emerge from under the A470. This section runs maybe 3-400 yards in length before disappearing underneath one of the slip roads for Junction 32 of the M4. At that point, you’re forced to turn west, and follow the embankment down to the River Taff and back to the Taff Trail. (When you get to the Taff Trail, it’s well worth turning right and heading north up the Taff Trail a short distance to the Iron Bridge. Alas, there’s no plaque that I could find to provide any details about the bridge, but it does afford a good view of Castle Coch in sunny weather).

The section of the canal to the north of the M4 seems to be completely invisible on the satellite view on Google Maps. But what is still visible is the clear outline of a railway embankment running north west beside the canal. If I have my bearings right, this is part of the old Cardiff Railway which once ran up to the coking plant at Nantgarw – and is just to the north of the bridge and canal section that I was out to track down on this shoot. The old railway line is (at first) impossible to trace on Google Maps as you move south of the M4. The trick is to go to the other endCoryton Station in Cardiff (where the line ends in this day and age), and then follow the route of the old railway west by north west back up to Long Wood Drive. (The old railway line makes for a nice walk too; I’ll be covering it in a shoot later in the year when we have blue skies once more). Between Long Wood Drive and the M4 lies the remains of the railway bridge that once crossed the Glamorganshire Canal at Middle Lock – the railway bridge from the photograph in the book.

How to find it? As you head south on the Taff Trail from Iron Bridge, you pass under the M4. The Taff Trail continues straight ahead (almost due south) along the bank of the River Taff. There’s another path immediately heading off to the left. Take the path to the left, and follow it along until it ends at another path (which runs west-east along the north side of Longwood Drive – not that you can tell when you’re actually on the walk!) Turn left, heading pretty much due east back towards Coryton Roundabout. The path takes you straight to the section of the canal mentioned in the book, right before it climbs up to the Esso petrol station and the Asda supermarket. The remains of the bridge can be seen to the north of the path, and to the left of the surviving stretch of the canal.

To be honest, there isn’t much to see. This stretch of canal is much more overgrown than the section by Iron Bridge Road, although it doesn’t appear to be anywhere near as silted up. The retaining wall that the bridge must have sprung from can be clearly seen, but nothing else remains at all. Still, I got a bit of a thrill from seeing such a well-hidden remnant of the past – especially as about 100 yards to the south lies the northern end of the Glamorganshire Canal Local Nature Reserve, which is much more frequently visited (probably because it’s nowhere near as overgrown). I’ve already made one (very short) trip to the Glamorganshire Canal Local Nature Reserve; I need to make another visit before I have enough photos to publish as a complete shoot.

To complete the walk, leave the canal by the path that leads up the steps, and follow the path around the north side of the Esso petrol station. This path takes you over a footbridge onto Coryton Roundabout (which is fun to explore), and out the other side over another footbridge back to the A4054 and into Tongwynlais. Although all the paths in this section of the walk are modern and tarmac, I managed to lose my footing at one point – a combination of muddy boots and water running down the slope of the path. Once you’re off the roundabout and back in Tongwynlais, you should be fine.

Overall, the walk’s easy going, with no major inclines to worry infrequent walkers. There’s one set of steps immediately after leaving the canal, and the paths are muddy at this time of year. You get to see two surviving sections of what was once one of the most important canals in the whole United Kingdom, and the early heart of the industrialised South Wales Valleys before the trains took over, plus the remains of a bridge that used to carry one of those railways up into the valleys.

That’s not bad for a Sunday stroll.

Favourite Photo From The Shoot

Back To Nature - A Photo by Stuart Herbert Although the photograph of the Iron Bridge has quickly become the most viewed photograph from this shoot, I personally prefer this photo. Although it was hardly difficult, I’m still pleased that I managed to find some remains of the bridge that I set out to find on this walk. Further up the valley, there are many places where there isn’t a single trace of the canal or the bridges that used to cross it. Don’t get me wrong – the A470 makes a huge difference to folks like me who live up in the valleys – but there hasn’t been any noticable effort (apart from the Nantgarw Pottery) to preserve at least some memory of the industrial heritage of the 1800’s. Maybe even these few remains will be gone within my lifetime; it’s nice to have a record of what’s there today in case they’re gone tomorrow.

Three Lessons From The Shoot

Although I originally wanted to pick out specific photography techniques from each shoot, the truth is that I don’t pay all that much attention to technique when I’m out and about. I mind the basics – shutter speed vs focal length for sharpness and aperture for depth of field – and then forget about them. The section has never lived up to its “Three Techniques” name, so from now on “Three Lessons” it is.

Instead, I’ll be posting regular mid-week articles on individual photography techniques, which will include technical skills (starting with weening off automatic mode), ideas about composition, and the workflow I follow for getting my photos from the camera through Aperture and up onto Flickr. A separate article will allow me to really get into a single aspect of photography, which will help me learn a lot more about photography.

But that’s to come. For today, the three lessons from this shoot are:

  • When I set out on this walk, I didn’t know exactly where the remains of the canal were to be found. To lighten the load, I left the majority of my kit behind, and set out with the D200 and just a single lens. Although there were plenty of moments where I found myself missing one of my other lenses, I definitely enjoyed myself much more because I wasn’t carting a tonne of glass around on my back. For days like these, you can’t beat having a jack-of-all-trades lens. My wife loves her Tamron 28-300 for just this reason. Unfortunately, I don’t like the results from that lens when paired with the D200. I wonder if supplies of Nikon’s 18-200 VR lens have improved recently …? 🙂
  • If you’re going out and you’re likely to be photographing water, don’t leave your polariser behind. *Cough* I did, and I’m still kicking myself for doing so. On the bright side, it means that I’ll have to go back later in the year (preferably when all the mud has dried out …).
  • If the sign says go one way, try going the other. As I mentioned in the introduction to this article, I’ve been down part of this path before, but I had absolutely no idea how close I was to the old canal.

Post Production

I need to rethink the way I’m organising my photos in Aperture. I’ve decided that I hate keywording all of my photos. Even with creating a metadata preset before doing the import, it still takes hours to go through each individual photo and apply the right keywords for that individual frame. I don’t have that sort of time, so I’ve stopped keywording photos in Aperture, but I still manually tag photos on Flickr.

Instead, my photos go into a Merthyr Road project in Aperture. This project is divided up into several folders based on geography – Taffs Well to Treforest for example – and each folder contains an album for each major subject, such as the Glamorganshire Canal or the Cardiff Railway.

The only problem is, of course, that I’ve ended up with several Glamorganshire Canal albums and several Cardiff Railway albums. As the number of shoots racks up, I’d like to be able to look at all my Glamorganshire Canal photos in one place so that I can see how my coverage is doing and what gaps I need to think about plugging in future. I can’t do that with the way I’m organising my photos in Aperture today.

Aperture supports Smart Albums – albums that can automatically pull in photos based on their keywords. I think I need to restructure my Merthyr Road project to make the most of this feature.

Found On Flickr

There aren’t many photos of the Glamorganshire Canal on Flickr at all, and the few that I’ve found really belong with my upcoming shoot of the Local Nature Reserve section of the canal.

But I did manage to find a couple of shots that seemed appropriate to today’s shoot, especially welshlady’s shot of Castle Coch taken from the Iron Bridge, which looks nicer than my attempt at the same shot today.

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Graffiti Inside The Treforest Tin Works

View this selection of photos in my Merthyr Road set on Flickr.

The old tin works at Treforest were once the largest in the whole of Britain. Today they have long since closed, and the buildings have fallen into disrepair. Much of the site has been levelled, but what remains provides the faintest of hints of the South Wales Valleys at the height of their industrial glory.

Aim Of The Shoot

From the A470, I’ve often caught a glimpse through the trees to the west of the remains of old factories nestling in the shadow of an old railway embankment. Armed with a couple of bottles of Lucozade and a few bars of my favourite chocolate, I walked down through Pontypridd and Treforest, determined to finally find out just what this place is.

Thoughts On The Day

Walking across the cleared ground, and through the ruins that remain, it’s very difficult to imagine that this was once part of the most important industrial complex in Britain – and therefore the world, thanks to the British Empire. The chains for the Titanic were made just to the north. Coal for the Royal Navy came from further north, passing by using the canal and later the crazy rail network that once criss-crossed the valley. Iron came down from Merthyr. Just to the south lay the second-largest tin works in Britain – it’s claim as the biggest stolen by the works here in Treforest.

Now it’s just a handful of ruined sheds surrounded by a security fence that the locals pay no attention to, all buttressed up against the remains of a railway embankment that (it appears) used to end in a viaduct across the valley. There are no signs to mark its passing, save one – a modern sign proclaiming that the local allotments are called the Tin Works Allotments. Indeed, it’s left to the two bricked-up tunnels to the east of the ruins – and an open tunnel that lies immediately to the west that begs a return visit – to provide the only hint that this was once such an important site.

It isn’t just the old tunnels that are striking. The local kids have covered some of the walls (both inside the works, and on some of the buildings outside the grounds) with some great graffiti. I know that graffiti is generally considered an nuisance and a menace by today’s society, and I’m sure that there are plenty of folks who wish for less politically-correct days when they could just pack these troublesome miscreants off to one of the colonies … but at the same time, I think the ones I found in the old tin works are really good. Given a choice, I’d rather kids were drawing things than mugging old ladies 🙂
I’m going to save the photos of the site itself for another posting on another day. I took over a hundred and fifty pictures of the site, and I need time to sort through them and process the ones worth publishing.

Favourite Photo From The Shoot

Graffiti Inside The Treforest Tin Works - A Photo by Stuart HerbertIt feels like I’m cheating. By breaking up this shoot into several postings, I get to have more than just one favourite photo – even though it was all the same shoot 🙂 There were several pieces of great graffiti that I captured during the shoot, but my favourite photo has to be this one. I think it does the best job of getting that balance right between subject and context.

What’s your favourite photo from the shoot? Let me know in the comments below.

Three Tips From The Shoot

  • You can’t beat local knowledge. Families walking their dogs tend to know all the best routes, and where it’s safe to walk (both from a danger point of view, and from a avoiding-trouble-from-landowners point of view).
  • Speaking of danger … you can’t walk around these places with your eye glued to the viewfinder. Apart from the very real risk of tripping over something and cutting yourself on sharp things on the ground, you’re in danger of falling down uncovered shafts at any time.
  • Most photo composition comes down to showing a subject in a context. In this selection of shots, the subject was meant to be the graffiti, and the context was meant to be the ruins that the graffiti has been painted onto. I didn’t maintain the discipline required, and quite a few of my shots [example] ended up the wrong way around.

Post Production

Part-way through processing the images from this shoot, my workflow with Aperture began to take shape. Rather than post the full details here, I’ll put together some example images of the workflow in action and publish them as a separate blog entry in the near future. (I’d like to start posting technique-focused entries mid-week to balance the weekend shoots – this’ll make a good first or second article).

Found On Flickr

I haven’t managed to find any other photos on Flickr of the Treforest Tin Works at all. That’s a real shame, especially when you realise that the University of Glamorgan can be found literally just down the road.

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Tearing Down Cardiff

View these photos as part of my Cardiff set on Flickr.

It was a crazy week at work (I clocked up 56 hours last week, and I was by no means the only one), but there was still time to pop over a couple of streets to where the demolition of Bridge Street is well under way. The whole area is being cleared to make way for the St Davids 2 shopping centre complex, which is due to open in 2009.

Aim Of The Shoot

Although I’m currently looking around for a good urban landscape shot, the real aim of the shoot was to switch off from work for a few minutes and give myself a little recharge over lunch.

Thoughts On The Day

The demolition team have erected screens around the doomed buildings. Whilst they protect the public from stray bits of rubble (and some – but not all – of the dust created by the work), the screens also prevent photographers from seeing much of what is going on.

Fortunately, this is what car park roofs are for 🙂

The only downside was that the car park stairwells were full of beggars and junkies obliviously shooting up. The lifts were still in working order, but I think that the safest way to do this would probably be to drive up onto the roof.

Favourite Photo From The Shoot

Goodbye DillonsMy favourite photo from the shoot is a close-up shot of the muncher about the tear up a little bit more building. I think it’s an appropriate metaphor for the way that our worship of the great God of Commercialism continues to eat away at everything that has gone before. It is relentless in its pursuit of hoovering up more money. The thing that gets me, though, is that I’m not sure who is going to be doing the spending once all the new stops have opened. The shops aren’t replacements – they are additional units. There’s only so much money to go around, and folks can’t live off credit forever …

Three Tips From The Shoot

  • If you’re trying to photograph a static subject, keep an open mind on where you can move to to find the right view. At street level, everything was obscured by the safety screens, but by finding a high vantage point, it was possible to get a much better view.
  • To find the right pictures, pick a print medium (book or newspaper) and imagine what sort of photos would go in that medium. This time, I was trying to imagine what sort of photos would accompany an inside spread for a newspaper article. As I rarely read newspapers, I don’t have much of an idea about this, and I think that comes through in the photos that I took 🙁
  • The extra reach of a larger telephoto zoom is rarely needed, but there are times when nothing else will do. My Sigma 80-400mm lens takes up a lot of room in my camera bag, it’s heavy, the optical stabilisation drains the batteries on my D200 like nobody’s business, and most of the time there isn’t enough light to capture sharp images. But it stays for moments like this, when there’s only one chance of getting the shot, and I can’t get close enough to use a faster (or lighter) lens.

Post Production

Although I’d taken my camera in hoping that the damp conditions would improve, they didn’t. I ended up converting the photos to black and white in the hope of adding a little more depth to the images.

Unfortunately, this is one set of shots that it will be impossible to reproduce when the light does start to improve as we go into March and April. By then, Bridge Street should be cleared … but they still have to demolish the Central Library building 🙂

Flickr Favourites

I didn’t manage to find any other photos showing the demolition work going on that I liked, but here are a few other photos of Cardiff that did make it into my Flickr Favourites.

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Avebury – All To Myself

Posted by Stuart Herbert on February 11th, 2007 in Shoot.

Avebury

See the photos from today’s shoot as part of my Avebury set on Flickr.

When Kristi decided to visit old University friends living in nearby Wooten Bassett, there was no way I was going to pass up the chance to spend the afternoon wandering around Avebury once more. This was only the second time I’ve visited Avebury alone; the last time was back in 1999.

And I’m really glad I went, because to all intents and purposes I had the place all to myself.

I’ve been to Avebury many many times over the last ten years, in all sorts of weather, and I’ve never seen the place so deserted. I think that only two of the twenty five shots I’ve uploaded to Flickr this evening have people in. I’ve been there late at night well after sunset for a spot of night photography and still seen more people.

I just hope that the new car parking arrangements (which I’m definitely not a fan of) aren’t keeping people away.

Aim Of The Shoot

No matter how many times I visit Avebury (or maybe because it’s a site I’ve revisited so often!), I always come away wishing I’d done better. This time, I was determined to make the most of the freedom of being alone to finally bag more than just the odd decent shot.

Thoughts On The Day

Driving over from snow-bound Wales, we both thought that the blue skies and soft light were together going to make this a great trip. The weather gods obviously heard us tempting fate! By the time I got there, it had clouded over, and once the rain started it was in for the day.

I have a tried and trusted trick for dealing with the British weather. Shoot everything in colour, and then convert all the shots to black and white in Aperture when I get home. You don’t get the very best shots – the light under an overcast sky is just too defuse, ruining the contrast somewhat – but by God the shots look a lot better than the colour originals.

I’m still persevering with manual focus, and I’m still forgetting to use the right eye to get the focus right through the viewfinder. After ten years of shooting on autofocus, my technique’s still a bit unreliable, as you can see for yourself on this shot of a lone surviving snowman.

Favourite Photo From The Shoot

AveburyI wish I could pick them all. For the first time, I came back with a set of twenty five photos that I’m happy with, and that do a great job of capturing what I like about Avebury. (That’s a 1 in 3 success rate. Maybe I’m not being objective enough here? 🙂 ) But, I have to choose one shot above all the others. I could stand there for hours enjoying this view of a standing stone and tree and never get bored. It’s such a peaceful spot, and I’m already looking forward to going back to the very same place later in the year to see what it looks like at sunrise and sunset.

This shot of two huge standing stones and the local church comes a close second (and, I think, it’s technically the better shot), and I also really love this quirky shot of the fenced pathway just behind the Red Lion.

What’s your favourite photo from the shoot? List your favourites in the comments below.

Three Tips From The Shoot

  • The weather seals on the Nikon D200 rock. It wasn’t the wettest day of the year, but I wouldn’t have liked to have tried this shoot with my old D100.
  • Lens cloths also rock. I didn’t lose a single image because of rains on the lens, thanks to having remembered to stuff a lens cloth in my pocket before leaving the car.
  • Auto-ISO mode really helps put the fun back into a day of photography. My D200 is setup to prefer ISO 100, but it will adjust itself all the way up to ISO 800 if necessary so that I can keep the shutter speed that I want to ensure the sharpness of my photos. (Shame my focusing lets me down, but that will improve with practice!)

Post Production

I’m not sure it’s such a good idea to be staying up into the small hours just so that I can get my photos up onto Flickr and this blog entry published 🙂 But tomorrow is another day, and I don’t want to spend it finishing off the post production for today’s shoot.

Found On Flickr

I came across this beautiful shot of Avebury taken earlier today by jenny66. Now I want to go back and do a successful shoot in colour 🙂

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And My Money Goes To …

Posted by Stuart Herbert on February 7th, 2007 in Equipment.

With my Aperture trial having run out this evening, it’s time to decide who gets my hard-earned cash – Apple, or Adobe?

Both packages have a lot to commend them.

Aperture is the master of organising thousands of photos. In particular, the smart albums and light tables are a real boon when sorting through a couple hundred photos at the end of the day. It’s ability to stack different versions of the same photo really opens up your creativity. The support for a “disconnected” photo library allows me to keep my masters on Moby (my paranoid fileserver at home), but still have high quality previews on the laptop when I’m out and about.
Lightroom is already shaping up to be the master of adjusting your photos. It is lightning quick at this (Aperture is anything but quick, even on a top-of-the-range MacBook Pro), and it’s only a matter of time before there’s a booming third-party market in adjustment plugins.

If I was making this choice twelve months or so in the future, I suspect Lightroom would be the winner. I fancy that the community that Adobe will build up around Lightroom will add an overwhelming versatility that I doubt will be matched by Aperture. Apple, by contrast, have started opening Aperture with an API for export plugins, but it feels like too little to stem the coming storm.

But … I’m buying today, not next year. And I’ve really come to appreciate the way Aperture manages photos. The Lightroom betas have been really weak in this area, and the final Lightroom 1.0 (due within a fortnight) will feature a major overhaul in an attempt to provide a more realistic challenge to Aperture. Given time, I’m sure Lightroom will catch Aperture up.

Until then, at least, Apple gets a little bit more of my hard-earned cash.

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(This is the first in a series of favourite photos chosen by other Flickr members).

Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, Llandovery, Carmarthenshire

Nikon D100, 15mm, 1/500 sec, f/7.1. 13th November, 2004.

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Scarborough West Pier, Harbour, and Castle

See the full photo set from this shoot up on Flickr.

My wife and I have this tradition. We each take the other out for a meal on their birthday. When Kristi asked me where I’d like to go for my birthday meal this year, I’m sure she was expecting me to name one of our usual restaurants. So you can imagine the surprise when I said that, this year, I wanted fishcake and chips from the Fish Pan chippy on Scarborough’s sea front.

I reckon it’s almost impossible to grow up in Yorkshire and not visit the seaside town of Scarborough at least once in your childhood. Scarborough is perhaps the very first seaside resort in the whole UK, boasting not only one of the first purpose built hotels in Europe, but (in its time) also one of the largest. But people had been coming to Scarborough for centuries before the Victorians brought their trains there, thanks to the waters of the Scarborough Spa.

Today, Scarborough is trying to recapture the successes of old. The old Victorian promenade which links the popular South Bay (where the hotels and arcades are) with the sadly run-down North Bay (home of the Sea Life Centre) has been rebuilt, and the South Bay is currently undergoing a 2.8 million regeneration.

Aim Of The Shoot

There was a recent FlickrBlog article showcasing photographs from the MSC Napoli’s beaching on the Dorset coast. Looking at these photos made me realise that the photos I’d taken with the D200 towards the end of 2006 just weren’t sharp enough. Looking at the EXIF data from Leon’s photos, I noticed that he’d consistently shot at high shutter speeds, and I was determined to try this approach and see what came of it.

Thoughts On The Day

Having arrived early Saturday evening, it was up and out early on the Sunday to catch the dawn. Not the time of day that one normally finds the Stuart creature out of his lair! Although I started out just after 7am, heading out to the Spa Footbridge across Valley Road, the light didn’t really appeal to me until around 9:30 am – at which point Kristi was keen for me to come back to our excellent hotel so that we could go for breakfast.

Heading out once more that morning, we were greeted by what must rank as the most surreal sight of the weekend. Along with many other folks, we watched in surprise as two lovely young ladies walked down onto the beach in what appeared to be wedding dresses, closely followed by a photographer, his assistant (poor chap spent the entire time being blown about by the reflector he was holding), and assorted family members. Alas, the only lens I had with me was a fixed 50mm, so I couldn’t get a wide variety of shots – I think it’s time to start looking for a high-quality 18-200 lens!

Unusually for me, I switched over to manual focus early on. I’ve not had a lot of success with manual focusing in the past with the Nikon D100, but the D200 features an excellent viewfinder which is both larger and much brighter. I didn’t achieve the sharpness I was looking for from my 80-400mm lens (probably because I was using this lens predominantly in the pre-dawn light), but I’m very happy indeed with the shots taken with the 50mm lens.

Favourite Photo From The Shoot

Dawn Walk On The South BeachThis is a tough one. I came away with several images that I’m really happy with. In the end, I’m going to go for this shot of the family walking on the beach at dawn. For me, it perfectly sums up the relaxing weekend that we enjoyed up in Scarborough.

Close runners up are this view of Scarborough’s South Bay, the impending Martian invasion, and fishing nets.

What’s your favourite photo from the shoot? List your favourites in the comments below.

Three Tips From The Shoot

  • You’ll always want a zoom lens when you don’t have one. I left mine in the hotel room when we ventured out after breakfast, and it was left to Kristi to take this excellent close-up of one of the two girls modelling down on the beach. A shame that Nikon’s 18-200 VR lens is so difficult to get hold of in the UK, as it would fit the bill perfectly.
  • You can’t predict when the best light will come, so get out there early, and make sure you can stay out there to make the most of it. Unfortunately, the best light didn’t arrive until just before half past nine in the morning – much later than I’d expected – and by then I was already heading back to the hotel before they finished serving breakfast.
  • Don’t just walk around turning your head left and right. Look up. Look down. Look in places you wouldn’t normally give a second glance to. Then go back and find another way to look at it. Show others what you’re doing, and above all else listen to them. They might just get what you’re trying to do better than you do.

Post Production

This shoot has left me with more questions than answers. Shooting at higher shutter speeds has – as it should – resulted in sharp images that I’m much happier with. But I’m still left with plenty of images that didn’t come out sharp. I’ll be wading through the EXIF data for a few nights to come trying to figure out why.

I didn’t achieve any sharp shots with the 80-400mm lens. This was probably caused by shooting in low light, and without a cable release. Hopefully we’ll have a bright sunny day one weekend soon, and then I can get some practice in to improve my technique.

I’ve also added a very useful step to my workflow to ensure that the colour in my photos is accurately show whether the photo is being viewed by something that supports colour spaces (Safari, Preview) or not (Firefox, IE). I’ll post more about this in a follow-up blog article.

Flickr Favourites

Here’s a few photos that I like of Scarborough from other folks on Flickr.

Seen a photograph of Scarborough on Flickr that you like? List it in the comments below.

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