Australia Day, Cobh-style

Waving Goodbye

It seems that no weekend is safe from some exhausting day-trip, so on Sunday we headed to Cobh (on the train — bonus excitement for the kids). 1500 Aussies were arriving on a cruise ship and Cobh, in a genius tourism marketing move, decided to hold an “Australia Day” celebration. There’s obviously huge historical significance to having a ship full of Aussies arrive back in Cobh, the port from which many of their ancestors would have left from. I’m glad we took the train though because the place was jammed but then Cobh is known for its traffic problems as much as the liners that visit.

Dawn Princess

Dawn Princess in Cobh

Looking Out

Looking Out — apparently the cabins with a balcony cost $7000 extra!

We walked around for a bit, showing the kids the ship and chatting to friendly passengers from “down-under” — all of who seemed delighted with their welcome and would randomly start up conversations with the natives. Some of these passengers had been on the ship since Sydney almost 100days ago and I guess they were happy to talk to any new faces!  Finally, it came time for the ship to depart: a band played on the quayside (Waltzing Matilda!) while the crowd waved flags, and banter regarding rugby teams was exchanged between the passengers and crowd. Despite the modern surroundings, and we didn’t even know anyone on the ship, it was strangely poignant.

Waltzing Matilda

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Anascaul Lake

Anascaul Lake

I’ve wanted to walk up past Anascaul Lake with a camera & tripod for a few years now. The last time I was up here was probably 15years ago, but I still remember the waterfalls, little bridges, sheep dipping station etc. The path at the top seems to have deteriorated and is basically like walking up a (not so) dried out riverbed.

The gale force winds made photography a challenge so I was primarily intent on scouting the landscape — but obviously a few shots had to be taken 🙂

I think this one works well.

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Ring-tailed Lemur

Ring-tailed Lemar

The Ring-tailed lemurs were out again at Fota. It’s been a while since we’ve seen them out so perhaps the Irish summer weather has finally tempted them out again.

This one sat patiently enough that I could use the 85mm f/1.4, although I think it was at about f/3.5 from a previous shot.

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Still Time

Norah having some TV-time before bed

On Monday, I “accidently” won an eBay auction for a Samyang 85mm f/1.4 lens. This is an all-manual lens: manual focus, manual aperture control and no electrical contacts (so no image stabilisation or EXIF data if that stuff matters to you). I’ve wanted a really fast lens in this focal range for a while, really since I started to appreciate that people will not live forever. There’s a family reunion on my wife’s side in August and I wanted to capture some good portraits.

I dearly love my Minolta f/1.7 but it often feels like it inhabits an awkward middle ground on the APS-C sensors: it’s often too long and sometimes not long enough. Sony do a nice (and cheap) 85mm f/2.8 lens but that isn’t really fast enough for me. The alternative might be the Sony Carl Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 but that would set me back around £1000 — I’m not that into portraits! So my compromise is the Samyang lens which a great optical performer, fast and I got mine for under €200.

Obviously, this is not a lens for capturing the kids running around the garden — although I did try and, even though the shots didn’t have that critical focus, they would have been fine at 6×4. What I really wanted this lens for was candid shots using the liveview and flip-up screen. This way I can leave the camera on the table or down at my waist and take some photos without being noticed. The Sony a580 has liveview magnification which is extremely useful for getting the focus spot on. For the pixel-peepers (and let’s face it, who isn’t when they get a new lens), this is a 100% crop of the original RAW file in Lightroom (f/1.4, ISO 800). Not too shabby.

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Church Bay Potential

SONY DSC

I had this idea on Sunday that some strong sunlight at sunset on Roches Point lighthouse would look really good viewed from Church Bay. From a previous outing there, I also knew there were some good rock formations. But Sunday was a wash-out for the sort of strong sunset light I needed.

Tonight, however was much more promising with no clouds or haze to be seen on the western horizon. Unfortunately, the kids seem to sense when you really really need them to go to sleep and refuse with a mixture of cuteness, cunning and whining. By the time I got to Church Bay it was 9:25 which meant I had only a few minutes of light.

But true to my expectations, the light looked great on Roches Point. Unfortunately, I didn’t get much time to fine tune my composition and focus before the light had gone. Ideally, I’d take the composition of the image above with the light of the image below. Oh well, I know the shot will work so it’s just a matter of reshooting another evening… and giving the kids a good run around before bedtime!

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Epic Sunset

SONY DSC

If only we could pre-order these for those evenings when we’re standing behind the camera looking at some amazing scenery. Instead, I was watching TV and ran out to the back garden in my socks (bringing in grass, to much spousal disapproval). A few minutes later, it was even better and, having taken my grass-covered sock off, I ran out bare foot. This time I brought back grass and rabbit poo between my toes. But it was worth it.

Since I didn’t have a tripod or my filters (and no time to set it up anyway), I took 3 shots bracketed +/- 0.7EV apart and merged them in photoshop. This is one of those techniques I learnt on the David Noton workshop and it’s perfect for occasions like these. It’s also quick: make a rough selection of the ground, feather it, drag it over to the sky image, adjust levels for each layer, flatten, save. About 3-5mins work. Sometimes it works better than others. Personally, the second shot is too HDR-like for me but the first it pretty damn close to what I’d expect using ND-grad filters.

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Lunar Eclipse

Lunar Eclipse

Lunar eclipses aren’t as dramatic as their solar cousins and this was even less dramatic than usual: clouds obscured the moonrise and the totality has already started to pass by the time the moon was visible. However, it’s still a fairly unique event and so a photograph should be made, particularly as there were many people who couldn’t see it at all. The initial telephoto shots I took just didn’t do it for me so I switched to a wider lens and looked for something resembling a composition. I regret not having the courage to do this to start with.

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Luigi

Luigi

Nothing much to add about this one: I love the movement, Luigi’s expression and the idea that it conveys the hustle-and-bustle of this small Italian town

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David Noton Workshop, Umbria Italy, May 2011

Dawn at Forca Canapine — probably my favourite shot from the trip

Two weeks ago, I spent a few days in Italy attending a 3-day workshop run by David Noton. This was held near Preci in the Umbria region of Italy – a gorgeous part of the world, full of mountains, valleys, wild flowers, rustic food and a rural population.

Perching over Preci — 4am starts were a big feature of this course

As we were scrambling up the hill at 5am to the first dawn shoot, I remarked that this was “bootcamp for landscape photographers”. The mornings only got earlier (in the jeeps at 0420) but it wasn’t just only a necessity but a thoroughly rewarding experience. In fact, it would be ridiculous to hold a landscape photography workshop and neglect one of the important times of the day. So be prepared: this is not your typical relaxing holiday and credit to the whole group as none of us missed the strictly enforced departure times. You get out what you put in.

Scrumptious Italian food

So a typical day starts early with a walk or drive to a dawn shoot location. After the sunrise, we might scout another location for a subsequent day or another post-sunrise shoot. Then it’s back at the hotel at about 0830-0900 for breakfast, followed by some classroom sessions. Lunch is a typical Italian buffet affair (with a glass of wine, of course!) followed by a much needed siesta. Then it’s out again for more shooting and then on to a sunset shoot. Back at the hotel around 2030-2100, for some drinks and gorgeous Italian food. You’ll hopefully get to bed around 2330 after grabbing a quick shower and emptying memory cards… and then it all starts again in 4.5 hours time. The field sessions are a mix of practical help and discussions setting up your shot and some group chats to talk about specific topics (light, filters, etc). These in-the-field discussions are then backed up by a classroom session with example photographs. As a template for a landscape photography workshop, I don’t think this can be beaten.

John and David

The group size was limited to 10 students with two instructors (David Noton and John Gooding) and I think that worked out just right: Enough students to form a good group but not too many that you’d get ignored. David and John compliment each other quite well both in their personalities and their photographic knowledge. Everyone is expected to know their equipment and a tripod (and walking boots) are essential requirements. However, if you’re shooting one of the popular brands (Canon/Nikon) there was plenty of peer-to-peer knowledge being shared around. In fact, one of the great joys was exchanging hints, tips, stories and iPhone app recommendations between the group. Each workshop will be different but I think we had a really good group: everyone was happy to have a good time, learn, talk about photography and help each other out. And no one decided to mock the only Sony user 🙂

The classroom sessions were kept brief and covered subjects like white balance, hyperfocal DoF, exposing to the right, exposure merging, filters, lightroom etc. These session were perhaps a little light on details (although with lots of examples) but I think that was fine. We were having perfect warm weather and no one came to Italy to be cooped up in a darked room. Even though I knew some parts in theory (e.g. hyperfocal distance) being on the workshop was helpful kick up the arse to actually use it. Other areas, like exposure merging, were completely new to me and is now something I’m playing with. For me, the real pull of this workshop was the area and the pre-scouted locations. Sure, I could have taken a holiday to Italy on my own for less money but I’d have no local knowledge or other photographers to learn from and motivate me.

Dawn at Forca Canapine — probably my favourite shot from the trip

Over the 3 days, the nature of the shoots changed slightly. At the start we were concentrated close together, shooting roughly the same scene, and having group discussions. On the second morning after the dawn shoot, we were brought up to a hilltop location at Forca Canapine and told to scout out a shot for the dawn shoot on the 3rd day. Likewise in the evening, we were encouraged to spread out and explore the options along the edge of a field of “purple jobbies” (all flowers are be categorised as blue/purple/white/yellow jobbies or poppies). And the final evening shoot was for a free-for-all in the local area although most of us chose the Preci viewpoint because of the light.

Santini the shepherd

To break up the slow pace of landscape photography, make better use of the midday hours and, frankly, avoid the classroom, David had organised two shoots with local people on the 2nd and 3rd day. First up was Santini, a local shepherd who was brings his flock of sheep and dogs down from the mountains in the late afternoon. Only on this occasion there was a press pack of 10 photographers lined across road taking photos of him. He obviously loves the attention and had dressed up a little for the occasion. As he walked down the road the sheep followed behind with the dogs keeping a keen eye on the intruding photographers. Santini would get within about 5m of us and pause for a few seconds and, as the pressure of sheep built-up behind him, we’d be given the order to fall-back. A quick sprint 50m down the road and the line reformed and process repeated for the next 10mins. The combination of changing lighting/scenes, moving subjects, urgency and physical exertion made for a very entertaining afternoon. I even got some nice shots including those I’d pre-visualised earlier. It’s not often that we get to operate as part of a pack of photographers like this whilst trying to get our preconceived shots in the bag. The shots I took of a shepherd on my spare day after the course have a greater authenticity to them, but the “running of the photographers” with Santini was still a heck of a lot of fun! Here’s a video montage I shot with the NEX mounted on a Gorillapod:

Luigi the baker in Visso and his 'Ape' van

The third afternoon, it was the turn of Luigi the local baker in Visso. This was a more sedate affair (and more clichéd) but nicely filled in the afternoon and gave us an opportunity to roam and photograph a small rural Italian town (oh, and there was delicious wild berry & meringue tart and Prosecco). I found this shoot a little difficult as I didn’t want to go telephoto and instead shot it all with the ultra-wide (11-16mm). This meant I had to seek out different angles and get close but without getting in everyone else’s way. In the end, I think I got some nice shots of the classic Ape van and a great panned shot. Better than being indoors, that’s for sure.

Would I recommend this course? Definitely. For me, the greatest benefit was a combination of the location, the dedicated time and having the experienced photographers around to guide, educate and motivate me. Has it improved my landscape photography? Unquestionably. Have I come away with images I really love and am proud of? Yes, YES! Would I do it again next week? If only I could!

I’ll be publishing a few more images here over the next week or so.

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Storm over Kinsale

Storm over Kinsale

Here’s another photo from last night, taken from James Fort overlooking Kinsale. I just love the colour of these storm clouds as they built up over the town — and I especially love that they didn’t dump rain on me!

I used a 0.6 hard grad and a touch of 0.9 soft (perhaps too much? I don’t know, I like it) so very little post-processing was needed (no HDR, no exposure merging; just clarity, dust spots, and a touch of tone curve). I really wished I’d had a 10-stop filter for this lens though as the blur of the clouds would have added to the drama.

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