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Leica M6

After my brief flirtation with a Leica M6, a set of test shots taken on a quick walk along the Thames between Chiswick and Kew Bridges last week. These are shop scans put through Lightroom. They have more jpg artifacts than you can shake a stick at, along with a very generous helping of sharpening from the person who scanned them, but they’re ok for reference.

Verdict…would I buy one? I’ll have to flip a very expensive coin on that!

Waterlillies

7 years, 9 months ago film, Garden Photography, Gardens, Travel 0

Earlier in the year I visited the Monet Gardens at Giverny to photograph the waterlillies. Prior to the shoot, I was asked to make some test shots for a few ideas I had, and these are the results. Shot at my local, Kew, the ideas weren’t adopted in the end, but a few days ago I finally made some high res scans.

I love using square format. Unfortunately most art directors worry when you mention it. To fit a page, a crop is almost inevitable, making its use irrelevant.  And why shoot a beautful garden in black and white? The area around the lake at Giverny is green. And then there is a lot more green, which is not surprising really, as it’s largely a  woodland type planting. There are occasional splashes of colour, but I wanted to capture the tonality. My darkroom instincts come to the fore in these situations!

Colour was eventually decided on and I shot some lovely graphic images – once these have been published next spring, I’ll post these too. And waterlillies – they’re absolute devils. If they decide to open, it’s a long wait. I timed one and it took 2 hours and 15 minutes. I’d normally have better things to do than standing around with a stop watch, but when you are planning a ferry trip home, it was essential. But worth the wait!

water lilies at Kew Gardens

water lilies at Kew Gardens

water lilies at Kew Gardens

water lilies at Kew Gardens

water lilies at Kew Gardens

water lilies at Kew Gardens

roots in glasshouse at Kew Gardens

roots in glasshouse at Kew Gardens

Out and about this week – 6.3.11

8 years, 5 months ago Garden Photography, Gardens, People 0

Some photographs from the previous week – Kew Gardens, The Garden Museum and Victoria Tower Gardens.

Kew Gardens - Camelia japonica 'cardinal'

Kew Gardens - Camelia japonica 'cardinal'

Kew Gardens - stop-plate cover

Kew Gardens - stop-plate cover

visitor at the Garden Museum, 4th March 2011

visitor at the Garden Museum, 4th March 2011

Plane tree leaves on embankment near Victoria Tower Gardens

Plane tree leaves on embankment near Victoria Tower Gardens

Kew Gardens - Prunus cocomilia or 'Naples Plum'

Kew Gardens - Prunus cocomilia or 'Naples Plum'

Christopher Woodward, director of Garden Museum, 4th March 2011

Christopher Woodward, director of Garden Museum, 4th March 2011

climber on wall, Garden Museum

climber on wall, Garden Museum

Sergio Cumitini, Garden Museum, 4th March 2011

Sergio Cumitini, Garden Museum, 4th March 2011

Acer pictum covered in yellow moss, Kew Gardens

Acer pictum covered in yellow moss, Kew Gardens

Garden Museum

Garden Museum

Garden Photographer of the Year competition 2011

8 years, 5 months ago exhibitions, Garden Photography, Gardens, news 0

This year I have been lucky enough to have a single image selected in the final of the IGPOTY competition and have a portfolio commended. The exhibition will be on show at Kew Gardens from May 14th.

The single image is a portrait of a gardening team in the WW1 cemetery at Le Trou Aide Poste, near Lille, Northern France. This photograph is based on an image, taken around 1920, of a team of War Graves Commission gardeners. It is part of a story on the Fromelles Cemetery near Lille, opened in 2010 for the reburial of British and Australian WW1 soldiers, whose bodies were discovered in a mass grave in 2008. The gardeners still work in teams, and move around various cemeteries in a particular region. Many are second or third generation, and are related to the original gardeners, many of whom fought in WW1. Kneeling on the right is Jean-Pierre (Jimmy) Macdonald whose British grandfather fought in the war and who settled in France in the employ of the War Graves Commission. For more information and images see www.pauldebois.com and look at the Fromelles gallery.

Team of War Graves Commission Gardeners at Le Trou Aide Poste Cemetery, near Lille, Northern France

Team of War Graves Commission Gardeners at Le Trou Aide Poste Cemetery, near Lille, Northern France

The Polaroid SX-70 portfolio was based on a photograph I took at Kew Gardens in 1982 as a photography student. Using the same camera, along with newly-released film I returned with the aim of capturing the atmosphere of this building, creating a ‘retro’ feel, with soft, almost monochromatic images. Polaroid SX-70 film was discontinued many years ago, but new film has been released, made by a company who bought what was left of the original Polaroid factory. This film has its own peculiar characteristics, but like the original Polaroid, produces very soft images – optically and tonally. The Palm House has lots of shade and I had to think in terms of black & white as the film could not render colour very well in these conditions. The photographs are not intended as literal portraits in the conventional sense.

The Palm House, Kew

The Palm House, Kew taken with Polaroid SX-70 film

The full size images can be seen in the previous posting ‘Shake it like a Polaroid picture‘.

Kew Gardens, 18th February

8 years, 6 months ago Garden Photography, Gardens, photography 0

A few test shots from a short visit to Kew Gardens last Friday. After four days of scanning, spotting and captioning some of my classic car photos, I felt I deserved a day out of the office!

Pyrus 'pashia' - windfall fruit

Pyrus 'pashia' - windfall fruit

Celtis laevigata 'smallii'

Celtis laevigata 'smallii'

twigs and branches, Kew Gardens

twigs and branches, Kew Gardens

I’m also trying a blog slideshow plug in, which has more images to scroll through. Hopefully it will view correctly in your browser. If you click on a large photo, it will stop the slides changing and display a full frame image. To restart the show, click on the background or thumbnail of your choice.

Shake it, shake, it like a Polaroid picture…..or not!

The instructions from Polaroid issued after the song by OutKast suggested you shouldn’t really shake your valuable instant photographs as they developed. In fact shaking is more likely to cause damage. So however energetic you feel, gently place each picture on a flat surface …..and watch it, watch it!

Apparently the idea of shaking your print came from using the old peel-apart material which had a damp surface immediately after developing. Shaking the prints helped them to dry – or so the say.

Yesterday I went to Kew Gardens to test my latest photographic acquisition, a Polaroid 320 camera. After much searching online, I had found some old 669 peel-apart film, which was seven years out of date. As it’s not made anymore, it’s hard to come by. It was a bit slow, and the prints had a very strong blue cast too, but I suppose this is the fun of it. And did I shake them? Yes!

So a few examples.

Palm House Kew Gardens - 669 Polaroid print

Palm House Kew Gardens - 669 Polaroid print

Palm House Kew Gardens - 669 Polaroid print

Palm House Kew Gardens - 669 Polaroid print

Palm House Kew Gardens - 669 Polaroid print

Palm House Kew Gardens - 669 Polaroid print

Palm House Kew Gardens - 669 Polaroid print

Palm House Kew Gardens - 669 Polaroid print

Palm House Kew Gardens - 669 Polaroid print

Palm House Kew Gardens - 669 Polaroid print, with the classic fault where the chemical gel fails to spread evenly over the print.

Just before Christmas I tried out another Polaroid camera, this time shooting SX-70 film. This you definitely didn’t shake. In fact it is so sensitive, it needed to be covered with black card as it was ejected from the camera to protect it from the light – then placed in my camera bag for at least five minutes. A complete P.I.T.A! Interesting results though.

'Palm House 1' Kew Gardens - SX-70 print

'Palm House 1' Kew Gardens - SX-70 print

'Palm House 2' Kew Gardens - SX-70 print

'Palm House 2' Kew Gardens - SX-70 print

'Palm House 3' Kew Gardens - SX-70 print

'Palm House 3' Kew Gardens - SX-70 print

'Palm House 4' Kew Gardens - SX-70 print

'Palm House 4' Kew Gardens - SX-70 print

'Palm House 5' Kew Gardens - SX-70 print

'Palm House 5' Kew Gardens - SX-70 print

'Palm House 6' Kew Gardens - SX-70 print

'Palm House 6' Kew Gardens - SX-70 print

Keep it simple, silly!

Over the last two or three years I have been running photo-sessions with colleagues who want to improve their photographic skills. An hour’s guidance can often help people see photography in a completely new way. Usually for personal work, or for those in the transitional stage between film and digital, I find teaching can be rewarding, especially when seeing someone make progress. In most cases, there is a eureka moment – a basic concept suddenly makes sense, with many other things slotting into place. As there is so much information available in books and online that it becomes difficult to work out what is useful and what is irrelevant. Or just plain wrong.

As I’ve been taking photographs since I was 14 or 15, the biggest problem I have is that I take for granted many basic skills. So I have to be careful. What is very obvious to me can be a complete mystery to someone who has just picked up a camera.

My natural inclination is to say, “Keep it simple”. Having a good idea in the first place will dictate how a camera is used, and skills will automatically develop with your particular needs. Buying loads of kit, and reading every technical instruction manual going, without a concept in mind will just befuddle you. You’re far better off looking at examples of good photography and developing an understanding of how other photographers work. This will help your own ideas evolve while you practice and take test shots. Expensive additional kit will then become obvious to you further down the line, so don’t go to a camera shop with an open cheque book.

On Friday I was asked by my colleague Veronica Peerless, a garden journalist, to accompany her on a visit to Kew Gardens. She needed advice on shooting and preparing images for web use, particularly for her blog. Coming from a magazine and TV production background, she is used do dealing with imagery, and has a good visual sense. But like a lot of people, she needed basic advice on the capabilities of a camera, to give her confidence when converting an idea into a useful finished product.

Veronica Peerless taking photo at Kew Gardens

Veronica Peerless taking photo at Kew Gardens, ©Paul Debois

I’m not going to go into much technical detail here, as everyone has different needs. But Veronica had enough previous experience to understand aperture and shutter priority modes, so it was a case of grasping exposure compensation or the manual mode. Having grown up with film, and cameras with no auto settings, my preference is still manual. That’s just my choice. It does no harm learning this way though – slightly slower, but because you are controlling everything, it helps you to understand the effect each function has. You can quite easily flip into a semi-automatic mode later on.

We went through various shooting situations. As she will be writing about botanical subjects, close-up views, along with general scenes were essential topics. Her camera is a Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3, a very good compact. I liked it because this was the first compact I had come across where the shutter and aperture controls remained ‘live’ on the camera screen, enabling quick toggling between the two in manual mode.

Shooting with a wide aperture is a popular technique with flowers, reducing the depth of field to the absolute minimum. I don’t think it is possible to create the really soft images that a DSLR or 35mm film camera fitted with a wide aperture lens can capture. This is something you need to weigh up. If this became essential, you would be better off with a DSLR. This was a slight frustration for Veronica, and was probably the only criticism of the camera. But if you are blogging, or are a garden designer taking reference shots, most of the time you should be fine with a compact, especially this one. You can carry it all the time without great inconvenience.

Fern in Temperate greenhouse, Kew Gardens

Fern in Temperate greenhouse, Kew Gardens, ©Veronica Peerless

Fern in Temperate Greenhouse, Kew gardens

Fern in Temperate Greenhouse, Kew gardens ©Paul Debois

The top photograph is with the Lumix, with the zoom lens set to 12.8mm and an aperture of f2.8. My shot is on a full frame sensor Canon 5D with an 85mm lens set to F1.8. Not a fair comparison, but she wanted to see how I would work and see what her camera would do in a similar situation.

We tried various close-up tests and landscape views as well as into-the-light shots inside the Temperate Greenhouse – always a bit tricky. As there is a large contrast range, any camera, whether film or digital will struggle here. It’s a case of accepting the limitations – and even making use of them. Her image below is a good pro standard shot, the limitations previously discussed not playing a part.

Temperate greenhouse, Kew Gardens

Temperate greenhouse, Kew Gardens, ©Veronica Peerless

All of  the files we took were processed on a computer later in the day. I didn’t want to make this a really hardcore digital session, as she does not intend to spend hours working in photoshop. I showed her how to make basic colour corrections and to resize for web use manually – but I also created an automated batch action in Photoshop, to resize and save for web. This should be sufficient for the time being! So, all in all, an enjoyable day, with a nice relaxed session. She said it was a revelation – we shall see. I intend to test her in the near future!

Joiners and montages

8 years, 7 months ago Garden Photography, Gardens, magazine feature, news 2

One of the unusual jobs I did last year was to produce three photo montages for SAGA, illustrating parks that had been restored using lottery grant money. Actually it was one of those jobs that was great fun to do because the brief was very open. I had free range over the interpretation, providing each image was identifiable with each of the respective sites. A rarity! The parks in question were Myatt’s Field in Lambeth, London, Catton Park near Norwich, and Sandall Park near Doncaster.

Due to the hot weather in early July 2010, the time scale for shooting was short.  Grass was burning up and flower displays were quickly going over. So immediately after the press day of the Hampton Court Flower Show, I headed up to Norwich at the start of a long three day circular journey.

The ambient lighting or weather conditions are the same in any montage I have made – stable! It can be overcast, rainy or sunny. I don’t care. Anything but changeable. Ideally you want the same lighting from the first frame to the last, otherwise it makes it very difficult to join the images together once working on the computer. I now always shoot this type of image with a digital camera. The first ones I made whilst at college in the early 1980’s were obviously on film and were much smaller scale – they were rarely more than 20-30 individual photographs arranged together. The ones I now produce can have anything from 200 up to 600 individual frames. With this number, you have to have similar contrast and colour balance.

Even with 600 images, speed is still needed. The basic set will be produced in around 60 minutes, with maybe additional key shots taken immediately afterwards. I never use a tripod, as I’m not trying to get a symmetrical line of frames for a seamless join. Actually, human error is a key part. One small aberration at the left of the frame will have a knock on effect on the right and vice versa. But this is part of the adventure. It creates distortions – and the fact that the angle of views are often 240 degrees to 360 degrees,  perspectives are deliberately false.

Underneath each image is a link which will reveal an animation in a new window, showing the construction of the photograph, from the first frame to last.

Myatt's Fields montage, 2010

Myatt's Fields montage, 2010

Myatt’s Fields – click to view animation


Catton Park montage, 2010

Catton Park montage, 2010

Catton Park – click to view animation

Sandall Park montage, 2010

Sandall Park montage, 2010

Sandall Park – click to view animation


My first montages were made from SX-70 Polaroids. They were slightly easier to join up as the prints were produced instantly and you knew immediately whether you needed to shoot more frames to complete the set. The following are made up from only four shots each.

Polaroid SX-70 montage 1, from 1980

Polaroid SX-70 montage 1, from 1980

Polaroid SX-70 montage 2, from 1980

Polaroid SX-70 montage 2, from 1980

With these images, I scratched the surface with sand paper as an experiment to reduce the gloss finish. I even remember setting fire to some to see what distortion effects I could achieve. Not normal practice, and I remember as a sheepish 19 year old trying to explain what the burning smell was to my mother. For those who are curious, they smell like  burning car tyres!

The following sequence is from more recent work.

Kew montage 2, from New Views Exhibition, Kew Gardens 2004

Kew montage 2, from New Views Exhibition, Kew Gardens 2004

M40 junction 6 montage

M40 junction 6 montage

Trafalgar Square montage

Trafalgar Square montage

Kew Montage 2 was in the New Views Exhibition at Kew Gardens in 2004. Trafalgar Square and M40 Junction 6 appeared in the Garden Photographer of the year exhibitions in 2007 and 2008 respectively.

The parks images can be seen in the March issue of SAGA Magazine.

Worth a look…….Vivian Maier, nanny and street photographer……and The British Council film collection

Just a quick note on a couple of things worth looking at. The first is a clip from a WTTW broadcast on American TV called Chicago Tonight. It details the discovery of a collection of street photographs taken by a nanny named Vivian Maier, who worked in New York from the 1950’s through to the early 1990’s. The collection amounts to an estimated 100,000 negatives, and could be one of the most important photographic discoveries for many years. The work is largely unknown – even her employers through the years didn’t really appreciate what she was doing. But it is a fascinating document of street scenes and people in New York during the middle of the twentieth century.

The photographs were discovered by John Maloof at an auction in Chicago 2007, who bought just one of the lots offered for sale. When he discovered the quality of the work, he traced the other auction buyers, and bought their collections too. There are even boxes of unprocessed film, which is slowly being developed. He is currently working through the negatives, a monumental scanning task that could take many years. Ultimately the collection could prove to be worth a significant amount of money, and there are plans for exhibitions at the moment in the USA.

It brings up the oft quoted discussion of film versus digital – will it be possible in 50 years time to discover a box full of hard drives in an attic and still find that the technology works well enough to fire up and retrieve the data? In reality, it is probable with the absolute mass of material being produced digitally now, that discoveries will be made in the dusty corners of networking sites like Flickr or their successors – these organizations are less likely to delete data now that storage has become so cheap. With ‘Digital Clouds’ too, offsite storage will replace the general use of hard-drives. So will ‘discoveries’ become more common? And then what happens to copyright? Another argument!

The programme has been posted on YouTube, and gives a good account of something many photographers and collectors would dream about!

You can see some of the stills in this video:

The other thing worth a view is probably less significant, but nevertheless, still fascinating. The British Council is making 13 archive films from its collection publicly available for the first time. Some can be seen on Vimeo and one in particular comes to mind. The World Garden (1941) is a Technicolor film of Kew Gardens made during World War Two. Largely a morale boosting film, it takes you round the gardens and looks at the work of the people and it has a beautiful colour, reminiscent of the slightly saturated botanical books printed in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Thanks to my colleague, Sally Nex, for pointing this out on her BBC blog.
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Also, have a look at The Life of the Rabbit – a wildlife film from simpler times!

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