Highland Challenge – Result!

11 April, 2017

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I’m a member of Islesburgh Photographic Club (and Facebook page ) and the Club enters a number of competitions with other clubs up and down the country throughout the year, having 2- and 3-way contests with them. Islesburgh usually does quite well, occasionally winning, which is a measure of the talent among the members. Once a year we enter 10 images into the Highland Challenge, which is a major battle involving 9 clubs across the Highlands and Islands and the judging took place a couple of weeks ago. Islesburgh came second, which is a great achievement and up from 3rd-equal last year and 6th the previous year – steady progress!

Last year I was very pleased to be overall winner of the Highland Challenge with my image of aurora at Wadbister, which you can see here. That was very satisfying, especially the Ffordes (FB) gift voucher that accompanied the trophy! That image took a lot of effort, both in the capture (I took it about 3 AM, having waited for just the right amount of pre-dawn light) and in the processing (it’s quite a complex stitched panorama). However, this year I won first prize in the Monochrome Digital Image section with this image of Hazel. This was particularly satisfying for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s black and white and I don’t often do black and white portraits, though it’s a style I very much like. Secondly, I was very much intending the finished image to be square right from the time I initially set it up and am pleased with the final composition. The light, Hazel’s expression and stance and all the other details that make the image work are all key elements of the image but there’s an element of luck in that the catch-light in the hair just caught on a stray breeze at exactly the right moment. Finally, this is one of my favourite images and, unlike some others which I really like but will be replaced by newer favourites, I think this will remain one of my favourites for a long time, mainly because I still think “wow, I created that stunning image of Hazel” every time I see it.

And here’s me receiving my trophy and certificate from Sidney, of Islesburgh Photographic Club… 🙂
https://www.facebook.com/IslesburghPhotographicClub/photos/a.222857797826556.43677.219533081492361/1166067316838928/?type=3&theater

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Hogmany at Mareel

2 February, 2017

Just a (rather belated!) post of some photos from the Hogmanay event at Mareel. From early evening on New Year’s Eve through to the early hours of New Year’s Day local band Fiddler’s Bid led a wide range of talented artistes in a musical extravaganza that was as good a Hogmany party as I’ve been to in many a year. It was something new for Shetland and really made the most of this fantastic venue – everyone I’ve spoken to since has said what a great time it was. I know many folk were disappointed at not being there, in fact many were kicking themselves at not having bought tickets!

There was also music in the 1920s-themed cafe-bar while the venue’s two cinema screens played classic American concert films. We had a brilliant time and I’d like to say a big thanks to all the performers, staff at Mareel and sound & lighting crew who all put in such a tremendous effort. A truly great spree to kick off 2017!

Milky Way at St Ninian’s tombolo and over Ireland, Shetland

4 October, 2016
I thought I’d missed the best chance to photograph the Milky Way on Sunday night, which had been exceptionally clear and wind free, whereas Monday evening had turned cloudy and there was a strong wind. But later on the sky cleared for about an hour so I thought I’d try my luck. So I headed out to St Ninian’s, which I thought would provide a nice environment for the photos. These are both composite images; one vertical, one horizontal. I was lucky with both images; for the first one I was surprised by a car that happened to drive down the track shining its light over the tombolo. Initially I was a little put out, with my darkness all gone just as I was about to take the first photo of the composition. But then I saw the beauty of the whole tombolo lit up just for a few moments, long enough for me to take the first image, creating an amazing illuminated foreground. The image with the aurora and Milky Way was quite lucky too – the aurora had been good in Shetland for the past few days but it wasn’t expected this night. However, as I was taking my photos looking south, I kept checking to the north and could see a faint glow developing; then the aurora brightened, just long enough to create the second image. http://bit.ly/1lzUb8j

Total Lunar Eclipse of a Supermoon!

28 September, 2015

Total Lunar Eclipse just after the start of totality, about 0315 this morning. Also being called a “blood Moon”, because of the colour, and a “supermoon”, due to it being closer to Earth than for most other full Moons. Seeing conditions were poor in Shetland, with cloud obscuring most of the event, apart from some time just before and just after the start of totality. 10 minutes after I took this photo it was obscured again. Because of the cloud it was quite dim and much of the detail of the Moon’s surface is lost but it was still a great sight to see.

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Aurora for August!

16 August, 2015

I had been watching all the spaceweather prediction sites for some time, knowing that Aurora season often starts in August and, sure enough, activity was forecast – but it arrived a day early and, unfortunately, during daytime in this part of the world. Nevertheless, I remained hopeful that it would still be active after darkness fell – and that the skies would clear of the heavy rain and thick cloud, as forecast. Well, the clouds cleared nicely but the aurora returned to low levels. So I waited and watched and in the hour before midnight things picked up a little.

Eventually I could see the aurora in town with my own eyes so I decided to go out of town for a better view. It wasn’t a very strong display but the colours were very nice and I managed to get some nice photos with the pre-dawn glow and the developing blue in the sky too. Here’s a panorama I created just before dawn, as I was packing up at Wadbister.

I had plenty of company during my time here – I could hear several seals breathing as they swam past and even saw and heard an otter clearly eating something only about 30 metres away in the sea; it looked like it was on its back, but it was too dim to be sure. The Milky Way was amazingly clear as well and there were a few meteors about too, all in all, an amazing night to be out watching the sky!

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Autumn Birds day

9 September, 2014

I can hardly believe that it’s 4½ years since the last time I went on a birding day out with Paul Harvey from the Shetland Biological Records Centre – I thought it was just a year or two ago! With Paul was Rory Tallack (one of the Rangers) and a group of about a dozen folk keen to see and learn more about autumn birds in Shetland.

Well this past Sunday was an awful day of rain and wind, quite a contrast to the day before, which had been glorious and warm sunshine all day. So our hopes were not that high and we set out generally looking for larger birds and those less likely to “hide” in such poor weather. We weren’t disappointed though and saw a good number of bird species – about the same as is usually seen on these courses that are generally held a couple of times a year. That we saw so many species is down to Paul’s ability to see and identify birds when most of the rest of us can hardly even see through the rain on the minibus windows.

So, unlike the post from 4½ years ago, the photos in this post are very poor and I’m just posting a few record shots of some of the more unusual species we saw. In fact, most of these are firsts for me, including the Kestrel which isn’t common in Shetland and, whilst I’ve seen it many times on the UK mainland, I don’t recall ever seeing one in Shetland before. So, given these are mostly new to me it was such a shame the rain prevented any decent photos, but I think it’s still worth posting them, not least to show the good work of the Shetland Biological Records Centre in running these courses.

You’ll see a couple of photos are not birds – we were very lucky to see a pod of 20+ porpoises at Scousburgh and they were very active, allowing good views.

Stuck for something to do at the weekend in Shetland? Not sure I believe you.

21 May, 2013

Just a quick round up of what I got up to at the weekend!  First, I got an exclusive preview of the Artisan Academy Exhibition of selected work of 3rd year Shetland College students of contemporary textiles at the Böd of Gremista. And by “exclusive”, I mean just me – before the other press or the private view. That was a good thing though because the Böd is so small that with the crowds expected at the opening, photographing the exhibits would have been difficult. I shall post more photos of the exhibition later.

I went back on the Saturday for the official opening to invited guests and snapped a few more photographs, mostly of the artists and guests, as you can see below.

Later on that evening I went along to an absorbing talk at the Shetland Museum entitled “From Kennemerland to Mary Rose” by Christopher Dobbs. Fantastic stuff for anyone interested in maritime archaeology and underwater finds, divers, historians and anyone just interested in the maritime history of Shetland and elsewhere. Dobbs also gave a fascinating account of the raising and restoration of the Mary Rose in the Solent, including giving the audience an insight into the new Mary Rose museum, due to open to the public on 31 May. The Shetland Museum was packed with more folk than had ever attended one of these lectures and some extra chairs and the stairs had to be used to accommodate everyone!

Sunday morning and I had a quick whizz round the boat show – not that I’m a boaty sort of person, but all those bright colours and beautiful shapes are highly attractive to a photographer! I was particularly taken with some of the older boats, including the 19th century Ann, but also a number of “Shetland model” boats outside dating to the early 20th century and with their history and owners listed.

For more info on the Ann see here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.517678974945272.1073741828.381349481911556&type=1

Sunday turned out to be a bit misty in town but we were headed west and, once over into Tresta it turned out to be the best day of the year so far – we took in the sun (me behind factor 30!) and admired the local scenes, wildlife and kayakers. Coming back, the last photo clearly shows that the misty low cloud was still at the same point that we had left it 5 hours earlier.

DSC_7661Jack Hardy alongside a painting of him and Claire Saunders Smith by Jennifer Hutchison

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Government legalises copyright theft of yours and my photographs

30 April, 2013

This legislation means that photographers and illustrators alike will see their artworks legally taken and used for another’s own gain. Perhaps by the likes of big companies who can well afford to pay. Perhaps in ways or by companies that you would not be happy with.

Professional photographer? This will hit your income.
Amateur photographer? Want to see your photos advertising some new product?

Why does all this matter? Well, you own the copyright to every photo you create but as soon as you post it online or send it to anyone by email, there’s a good chance it will become separated from any information that identifies you as the copyright owner. At this point it becomes know as an orphan work and The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 says it can be used by anyone, for free, so long as they can show they looked for the owner. How likely are they to find you among all the billions of images posted every day?

There’s a great blog post with more details here:
http://photothisandthat.co.uk/2013/04/29/is-the-uk-government-trying-to-kill-of-photographers/

You can sign the petition here:
http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/49422

You should write to your MP:
http://www.parliament.uk/about/contacting/mp/
http://www.writetothem.com/?keyword=write%20to%20your%20mp&creativeid=605235399&gclid=COGRzrnH87YCFdDJtAodsxgAjw

DO IT NOW! The Act has received Royal Assent but Regulations still need to be made.

Not in the UK? It applies to you too!

Is Professional Nikon DX dead?

16 April, 2013

I’m not sure I agree with Nikon’s understanding of the pro DSLR market by only having FX cameras in its current range and feel that it is irritating a lot of people by dumbing down its DX range. I also wonder why it only has 2 current pro bodies, the D800 and D4. If you doubt that there remains strong demand for a pro DX body check out the price graph for the D300s over the past 2 years, since Jan 2011 here. In the UK this has remained at around £1000 until the time of writing (April 2013).  I bought mine in Jan 2011 second hand for £800 in mint condition with just 2000 actuations and the current second hand value for one in a similar condition remains at least £700.  ALL other Nikon bodies, both pro and consumer have seen substantial price falls over the same period and most other available Nikon bodies now are much newer than the D300s which should be heading towards obsolescence if one considers the average lifespan of a DSLR – the D300 arrived in 2007 and the D300s in 2009!

Pine Grosbeak, Collafirth, 7 Feb 2013The D7100 isn’t the answer for me, key aspects are size and weight (for balance with pro lenses), CF card compatibility (they’re faster and easier to work with, both in the field with gloves and more reliable in card readers), incomplete weather sealing in a less robust body, smaller buffer, fundamentally different menu system and control layout based on the needs of a different type of user (e.g. one who doesn’t need to do everything instinctively in the dark or whilst not taking your eye off your subject).  The D4 is not cost effective and far too big for me.  The D800 has now become my default camera – but 36MP is far too much for most of the photography that I do (though it’s incredibly useful in some specific cases) and I use the DX mode a lot.  The D800 overall gives me great flexibility but it’s simply not as good for action and wildlife as the D300s, mostly due to the much slower frame rate and relatively slow buffer clearing, even in DX mode.  I’ve missed fleeting moments waiting for the buffer to clear even though I use a Lexar 800x CF card, as opposed to a 400x card in the D300s.  And don’t even think about chimping if you’ve just filled the buffer, you could wait for what seems like a minute or more for the green light to go out and while it’s on, reviewing is a painful experience.

It’s not even that I have many DX lenses – I have a total of 2 – and most of the lenses I use on the D300s are FX because they meet my needs better.  But the D300s doesn’t measure up to modern Nikon DSLR standards in terms of noise, movie quality and would benefit from onboard GPS and WiFi.  It also would benefit from better (faster, more responsive and more accurate) follow focus ability, a modern sensor with more MP and wider sensitivity range and a much better live-view mode – the facility on the D300s is very clunky.  Oh, and a faster image processor and/ or bigger buffer would be nice.

Finally, the competition from Canon – the 7D is newer than the D300s but it still hasn’t been replaced, despite the rumours of a MkII.  Perhaps neither of them will be and the lines will be dead?  For me I don’t see either the D7100 or D600 as a viable replacement for the D300s and will continue using it as long as I can.  The discussion on whether a pro-build DX DSLR is viable or will ever come will go on for another year or two at least – one reason to remain hopeful is to consider that 4 years elapsed between the launch of the D100 and the D200!

And the birds returned… in pairs!

3 May, 2012

For some reason there has been a shortage of birds in my garden these past few weeks, in spite of there being the usual supply of food for them. I had been wondering if hiding cats had been putting them off because there were plenty of birds in the neighbourhood and folk were telling of all sorts of interesting finds (see the Nature in Shetland site for details of recent birds).

Well I was delighted to find a pair of siskins and a pair of bramblings in my garden this evening, among the sparrows. Except the original pair of bramblings later turned out to be at least 6! Here are a few photos.