Portraits of a cow, a wicked witch, a fool and a dame

This can only mean one thing…

… Panto portraits!

Nice feather duster you have there in your hand sir! One of the pantomime cast posing for a portrait.

This was my third year of taking pictures on the evening of the full dress rehearsal for the Killigrew Drama Society (KiDS) pantomime, the Adventure in Pantoland by Alan P Frayn at the Abbey Theatre, St Albans.

This year I wanted to take some portraits of the cast before they went on stage. Time was extremely tight on the night as everyone was so busy coming and going. I only had a couple of opportunities to capture anyone that was willing and able to have their portrait taken just before going on stage or just coming off.

I set up a small umbrella and a Speedlight in a room next to the stage. The background was poor no matter where I tried to do a setup. I decided the best plan of action was not to worry about the background at all. I would concentrate on taking the portrait and then I could remove the distracting background later in Photoshop, replace it for a more interesting one.

So, Aladdin was first, followed by Tommy the cat, then it was the turn of The Fool, Prince Charming, Snow White, a Villager and Fairy Honeysuckle. And these were just a few of the incredible characters appearing in this years pantomime.

Below is a rogues gallery of some of the incredible cast that performed in the pantomime. Click on an image to enlarge.

Each portrait took no more than between thirty seconds to a minute to take. I couldn’t miss this opportunity to take pictures of these actors in theire incredible makeup and costumes.

As you can see, this was the not so flattering background I had to work with.

Below is the image which replaced the boring backgrounds of the portraits. I had taken the picture earlier of a rather atmospheric stage shot with smoke lingering on the stage and backlit by the stage lighting.

There’s no smoke without a panto dame. This was the picture I took of the front stage just as they let rip with the dry ice machine and thought it would make for a good background to the individual portraits I was taking.

Below are three examples showing the before and after post-processing. Removing the distracting background and replacing it with the much more atmospheric smoke version makes a panto world of difference!


The 12 disguises of Christmas

I came up with the idea of creating this fun little stop-motion selfie for the 12 days of Christmas. I used what we had gathered over the years from the Christmas box and hey ho here we go – the 12 disguises of Christmas!

See you next year!

How I create my holiday photo books

Overview

When creating a holiday photo book or any other photo book for that matter it really pays to think and plan in advance (and I’m talking, even before you go on holiday). This blog gives some key principles (in no particular order) I apply to new projects. At the bottom of the blog I have attached a pdf and a hires version of a workflow I use when working through a piece of work. Hopefully you can apply a few of these ideas and principles into your own future projects. 

Tell a story about the trip

First impressions count, so jot down your immediate thoughts on arrival! Then, as each day passes, note down what you got up to. By the time you get back home unless you’ve written all of this down you’re going to have a tough time remembering what you got up to and in the order you did it! 

  • Describe your: location (countryside or city) /accommodation/atmosphere/people/local area (modern or old)/weather/restaurants/food/bars/costs/beaches etc.
  • What was the local food like, best restaurant, was it reasonable or expensive, how much were taxis/hire cars, a glass of wine/beer? 
  • Did you do any activities or travel to other locations? Did you travel by car/bus/train/plane/boat?

Workflow

This is the workflow I use after I come back from holiday.

  • Create a folder in Lightroom naming it with the location visited, the month and year.
  • Download all images from cameras into the folder above.
  • Import all files into Lightroom.
  • Start the picture culling process. Be brave, be bold, there’s no room on the HD for all those second rate images – Reject all that don’t make the cut. Delete all over/under exposures, blurry/out of focus shots. Get rid of all the rubbish and if using bracketed/continuous shooting modes, pick the best one out the bunch. I do this three to five times on average until I whittle it down to about 10%-30% of the original import.
    I delete the rejects and save the rest in readiness for the book.
  • I think about the format of the book I want to create and then make the decision as to portrait or landscape and the physical size (page count doesn’t matter at this stage as it’s really easy to add or subtract pages as you layout the book).
  • I start editing pictures and then flowing them into the page layout. 
  • Type-up my journal I kept on holiday and decide whether to keep it in one section of spread it throughout the book.
  • Creating the map and infographic is next.
  • Organise book into sections if needed.
  • Once everything has been flowed into the book and I am happy with the layout I will go through captioning all images that require a description.
  • First proof stage. I create a pdf version of the book and print a hard copy. I then use this to markup any issues needing correction such as typos, spelling, layout and and further image editing requirements.
  • Make all corrections as marked upon first proof, create pdf, print off a hard copy and markup any additional amends. On average this could take anything between two to five times but it’s an essential part of the proofing process.  
  • Once the above is complete I am happy to proceed to print. I will choose the quantity, paper stock, and cover type before uploading online a hires pdf to Blurb’s website for them to print. I can then relax and start getting excited about receiving my very own unique holiday photo book.

Book sizes and finishes

There’s a diverse array of sizes and finishes to choose from. Think about:

  • Size: do you want to create a pocket book or coffee table book.
  • Orientation: portrait or landscape.
  • Cover: hardcover image wrap, hardcover dust jacket or soft cover. 
  • Paper type: lustre, matte, uncoated or pearle (this will not only affect how the images will look on the paper but it will also have a big impact on how the book will actually feel. We’re talking tactile, Personally, for me I love the look and feel of an uncoated paper.

Create a holiday map

Create a holiday map showing your location in relation to the local area/town/city or country visiting. You might want to include:

  • Location of the hotel.
  • Places of interest/visited.
  • Use a recurring theme of the area to incorporate into the map such as colours/typography/textures/architecture/shapes and plants.

Applications used to create photo book’s

  • Adobe Lightroom: for storing, editing and creating the photo book.
  • PhotoShop: for finer editing control over images, creating montages and other images that can’t be created in Lightroom.
  • Illustrator: for creating graphics for the infographic and maps.
  • Blurb: for producing photo books.

Create a holiday infographic

Creating an infographic is a great way to visually show, at a glance, key important information about your holiday. So we’re talking about:

  • Accommodation details and places visited.
  • Flight details: carrier, airports, dep/arrival times.
  • Cost details: flights, accommodation, and spending money.
  • Exchange rates.
  • Length of stay.
  • Equipment. Technology is cracking along at a pace! It’s interesting to look back over time and see what equipment you took on a trip and how it has evolved over time so make sure to include cameras and lenses.
  • The total number of pictures taken (it’s an eye opener to see the comparison between the number of pictures captured, compared to the keepers! 

Layout, theme, and flow

You can choose from template-driven layouts to get started or go all freestyle and created your own unique look. Incorporate the essence of your holiday in the form of colours and typography. Don’t forget how much of an impact the type of paper you print the book on will also have. Consider the following:

  • Fonts.
  • Colour.
  • Page numbers: Bottom or top centred/left or right, or middle of the page.
  • Page layout: Clean/creative/portfolio or travel inspired.
  • Use captions for pictures.
  • Write an overview of the holiday.
  • Create sections describing accommodation (inc bedroom, bathroom, living room, balcony, grounds) pool, local area, trips etc.

Equipment used

I used to travel with a DSLR, at least two lenses (a wide angle, 10-20mm and telephoto, 28-135mm), filters and all the usual accessories. I got so fed up of constantly changing lenses, equipment being too bulky, awkward and rather heavy to carry around with the other usual holiday essentials stash in my backpack. And finally I really didn’t want to take it out at night.

There’s no one camera or lens that does it all. The camera I chose to fulfill my particular travel photography needs was the Sony RX system. It’s so small, lightweight, the spec of the camera and quality of images are amazing. I also take a GoPro along for the same reason but with the added bonus of being waterproof and having an amazing wide angle lens!

  • Sony RX 100 IV.
  • GoPro Hero 6.
  • Gorilla Pod.
  • A6 notebook.

 

Below are six pictures showing some of my holiday photo book covers.

The Shortbread Shed-photobooks-29The Shortbread Shed-photobooks-38The Shortbread Shed-photobooks-22The Shortbread Shed-photobooks-6The Shortbread Shed-photobooks-16The Shortbread Shed-photobooks-5

 

The below three images show the different types of introductory text I have used to describe the overall holidays.

Below are examples of holiday maps and infographics from various holiday photo books.

The Shortbread Shed-photobooks-4The Shortbread Shed-photobooks-21The Shortbread Shed-photobooks-28The Shortbread Shed-photobooks-44

 

Below is a slideshow showing various spreads from different holiday books

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Below are pictures showing the different layouts of sections I have used for the various photo books. The sections range from Accommodation, location, tours, the pool to road trips.

 

Below are two hires images detailing my workflow process. You can also download a free pdf which describes and shows you the creative process I go through when creating a holiday photo book.

S121_How to create a holiday photo book

 

 

The Great Glencoe Challenge 2018

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Here we go, this is it, the start of the 2018 Great Glencoe Challenge.

In July 2018, I returned to compete in The Great Glencoe Challenge (Scotland’s toughest trekathon with over 5000ft of ascent). A 26.2-mile trek from the heart of Glencoe to the foot of Ben Nevis in Scotland.

The previous year I competed as part of a team and although it was great fun I knew I had a lot more left in the tank as we crossed the finishing line! I knew I was capable of doing it a lot faster (Click here to see the 2017 Great Glencoe Challenge blog) and thought I would return to take care of unfinished business and give the course another crack to see if I could really do it in a faster time.

Part one of my footage shot while competing in the Great Glencoe Challenge. From the start in Glencoe to the halfway point in Kinlochleven.

 

Part two of my footage from the halfway point in Kinlochleven to the finish line at the foot of Ben Nevis.

So a year later at 08:00 on a cool sunny Saturday morning on the 7th of July 2018 I took my place in line with the other eager Trekkies to get piped across the start line on this epic journey.

Through some of the most spectacular scenery in Scotland, we headed off at a leisurely pace. A wee bit too leisurely a pace for my liking. I really didn’t want to hang around as I was conscious I needed to pick up the pace somewhat to beat last years time. It was difficult to overtake for the first few miles with such a narrow path, overtaking was pretty tricky at the best of times without looking like a right road hog and pushing in at every available opportunity. I decided to go with the pack, bide my time and should an opportunity arise, seize it and slip up another place until the route opened up and I would have no problem overtaking.

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I managed to really pick up and maintain my pace at around the five and a half mile mark just past checkpoint one. This is known as ‘the bog’ which is a long stretch of peaty, wet ground that takes you up part of the route called ‘the Devils Staircase’! Now last year the bog was indeed pretty boggy and one of the group actually disappeared up to his knee in it. However this year in Britain we’ve had an amazing summer and there was no exception for Scotland. With weeks of dry sunny weather, almost unheard of for these parts, the bog had literally dried up. The ground still felt spongy underfoot but there was hardly any wet patches around which made the going easier and quicker.

I didn’t hang around, picking up the pace, I soon overtook those I was unable to pass in the previous miles. With a big push, I was up and over ‘the Devils Staircase’ in a cracking time. There’s a long plateau to follow next before descending down into Kinlochleven to the halfway point.

All competitors had to check in at the Leven Centre upon arrival to make sure you were fit and able to continue on the next 13 miles. There was hot food and drink on offer so I grabbed some pasta, garlic bread, and some water. I sat down to eat, then had a quick check over my feet before reapplied vaseline, talcum powder, and a change of socks before I hit the road more energized ready for part deux of the challenge.

A few images from around the course.

For the next 45 minutes, it was a beasting all uphill through wooded terrain until you reached to the top of the hill. From up top overlooking Kinlochleven it was pretty much following a more gentler contour of the hills for the next few miles through a long winding glen, phew.

Although the weather was great i.e. not much cloud, blue skies, gentle breeze and temperature in the high teens to low twenties it didn’t make for taking great pictures. There was too much harsh sunlight. Race start was at 08.00 and because it was in the highlands we had more daylight hours having just passed the longest day of the year. It meant I missed the sunrise and would get well in before sunset, so no golden hour opportunities to make up for it. There was simply no decent light to be had I’m afraid. Last year was much better for taking pictures as it was mostly overcast, raining, low cloud and mist cover and good contract (basically what you would call a traditional summers day in Scotland)! Now that sort of weather makes for great atmospheric shots.

The rest of the course was pretty straightforward although at six miles to go most of my body was aching especially my lower back and the tops of my toes where I seemed to manage to stub them at full pelt on unmoveable rocks all too regularly. Apart from that I was in good fettle and kept up the pace all the way to the finish line.

It was brilliant. I had come to settle a score, I had put the training in and was determined to beat the previous years time. I set off at a slow pace but more than made up for it later on. I had stopped many times to take pictures and video and had allowed 20 minutes at the halfway mark for a bit of a rest, a check over of my body and a change of socks. The weather, well the weather couldn’t have been any better especially for Scotland!

So you may be wondering how well I did. Well, I’m delighted that I did the 26.2-mile trekathon in 7:42:27 and came in a 20th overall position out of 385 competitors. whereas last year we came in at 11:30:49 in an overall position of 378 out of 430 competitors. GET IN THERE!!!

I was really chuffed with that time and of the whole experience during the day. The course was superb as was the organization, the volunteers and marshals throughout the course were brilliant. I finished the day off with a hog roast and a pint sitting down on the grass watching the other competitors cross the finish line, some in a better state than others.

I went back to my B&B just outside Fort William with a couple of cans of beer for a celebratory drink. I sat on my bed in front of the TV and promptly fell asleep!

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The finish. What an amazing day. I came 20th out of 385 competitors which I was delighted at.

Finish time: 07:42:27
Overall: 20/385
Categ: Over 40
Race No: 263
Gender: Male
Status: Finished

Moving still – Cinemagraph experimentation

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been really trying to create and make better Cinemagraphs, some examples of which you can view below.

The main takeaway from my experimentation are three-fold –
1. looking for opportunities 
2. planning
3. using a tripod

Looking for opportunities

I’ve been much more focused at looking for more opportunities to create video for use in Cinemagraphs. When I’m out and about – walking, driving in a car or commuting on a train, I’m looking for opportunities that might make a good image. If I don’t have a camera with me, I’ll take a mental note of the situation and location for future projects and then make a point to return to take the footage. Alternatively, I may come up with a concept or idea at home and when I’m out and about I’ll be looking at places where I could execute my idea.

Planning

Planning saves a lot of time and helps to alleviate some of the stress in capturing the footage. The more you plan the better and smoother the shoot should go! So, the things I look out for or will be thinking about before the shoot will be some of the following: best time of day to take the footage (busy or quiet), lighting (night, day or artificial) what camera to take (DSLR, GoPro or point and shoot), What’s the subject matter (people, machinery, wildlife etc), angle (above, below, sideways, wide of zoom angle).

Using a tripod

I have realised this is critical to successful shots! I have tried on numerous occasions and thought I would get away with handholding a camera. I would always be convinced I was not moving, not shaking and not breathing to avoid as little shake and movement as possible. When I got back home and downloaded the footage it was immediately apparent just how much movement there was. Unfortunately, in most circumstances the footage was no use and I couldn’t use it. So now I don’t bother to hand hold and hope for the best. I always take a tripod with me or if I’m tight on space and need something a bit smaller and lighter I’ll take my Gorilla Pod with me which has become invaluable.

I’m off on holiday in the next few weeks and looking forward to having the opportunity to capture some unique footage to allow me to create some more exciting Cinemagraphs.

I hope you like the ones below and don’t forget your tripod!

Spectacular lightning show on mute!

The storm caught on camera at the front of our house. I combined the hand held still images to create a short stop-motion movie showing just how amazing the storm was.

Recently we witnessed one of the most spectacular lightning storms we had ever seen in our local area.

There was some spectacular lightning on show but with no accompanying thunder it was most peculiar! It felt quite surreal and ever so slightly eerie. I was expecting at least one god almighty thunder clap to follow the lightning. All we heard was the background hum from cars driving by, the chirping of the birds high in the trees and the oohs and ahhhs from the neighbours looking out their windows as if watching a fireworks display!

Had it not been for the wife calling me out to see the incredible show that was happening literally just down the road, I would have missed the opportunity to take the pictures. I heard nothing inside the house to alert me to the spectacle that was happening just outside. Thankfully though I had the good fortune to remember to grab my point and shoot camera whilst heading out the front door. I stuck it on burst mode, fiddled with a few dials and buttons, pointed to the sky and hoped for the best!

Boy, was I not disappointed. The show lasted for more than 45 minutes and not only was there very little noise, there was not a drop of rain to accompany it.

I had lots of great still images and wanted to combine them into a stop-motion movie to show just how spectacular the storm was. Above and below are two examples that turned out well.

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Above some of the images I manages to capture from the incredible storm.

A stop-motion movie from the back garden.

Why have one lens on your camera when you can have four!

I saw some really cool and intriguing images on the web a couple of years back and couldn’t figure out how they were created. It was kind of a retro 3D animation of a still image! After lots of digging and research on the internet I discovered that the technique involved some 1980’s analogue technology combined with some up-to-date digital PhotoShop jiggery-pokery.

I discovered that to achieve the same look I was going to have to buy a old 1980’s Nimslo 3D 35mm camera. The camera is no longer manufactured as I discovered, however there was a steady flow of secondhand Nimslo cameras coming up on eBay. It was then down to a waiting game to see when a suitable, working and in good order camera came on offer. It took a while but eventually I managed to place a successful bid and waited with anticipation for it to arrive.

It’s pretty funky looking mostly down to the fact that there are four lenses on the front of the body as apposed to the normal one as you can see in the image below. Basic and simple to use, the camera’s lenses are fixed focused, takes 35mm film and you have the option of choosing 100 ISO or 400 ISO film speeds. Although there are four lenses, the viewfinder is perfectly normal to use and compose your shot in the normal way. With the camera I also also got the Nimslo flash which really comes in handy for indoor work and helps to ad more 3D depth to the pictures.

So now I had half of the puzzle and the hardware part was taken care of, I now needed to find out how to create the funky intriguing digital aspect of the picture. More internet research and I came across a variety of sites giving various bits of information. After a bit of Sherlock Holmes and lots of piecing together I managed to figure it out!

Now it was down to putting the analogue piece together with the digital piece with lots of fun, trial and error.

My son became my muse for most of my picture taking, much to his bemusement and somewhat annoyance. I used a 35mm, 400 ISO 36 exposure film for my experiments. Once the film was used I had it developed (I didn’t need any hard copy Lenticular prints) and then the film electronically scanned onto CD. I then downloaded the files onto my computer and took the images into PhotoShop. Once in PhotoShop I separated the four images (which produce one 3D image) into four seperate layers making sure they aligned correctly. Once this was done I created a simple animated timeline of the four layers to rotate one after the other.

Hey presto alakazam, by joves I had it! This was cool, I managed to replicate the look and effect I was after. I was delighted with the outcome and excited to take and make more 3D animated still images. The camera is not for everyone or for all occasion. It’s the sort of camera best used with a bit of forward planning and knowing in advance the type of picture that will suite this specialist camera.

Right, where’s my son, I need him for a special 3D photographic project i’ll be working on, wait until I tell him – he’ll love it!

The Shortbread Shed-Nimslo 3d cameraThe Nimslo is a 35 mm film camera which captures four pictures at exactly the same time. The four lenses are slightly offset horizontally from one another which when printed, using a Lenticular printing technique produces 3D pictures. These pictures can be viewed without the need for any specialist glasses giving a 3D look to the image.
It was first introduced in the 1980’s by Nimstec in the USA and manufactured by Timex in Dundee, Scotland.
The Nimslo has four fixed focus lenses, when the shutter is pressed it takes four images from slightly different viewing angles simultaneously which is how it achieves the 3d look.

 

film strip

An example of an exposed 35mm film. This is one exposure which produces four images. Each of the images is horizontally offset by a couple of centimeters which helps give the final combined picture that funky 3D look.

 

Below are a few examples of my first attempts at taking and making 3D images using the Nimsol camera and a bit of PhotoShop comping to create the final images.

Moving still. The intriguing world of Plotagraphs and Cinemagraphs!

Over the last few months I’ve been experimenting with two exciting pieces of software I’ve come across.

Plotagraph Pro and Cinemagraph Pro allow you to create striking eye-catching and surreal images from a single image or from a small section of video footage.

Plotagraphs are created from a single photograph. By using Plotagrapg Pro software to mask and select certain areas of the image you want to animate you can create the illusion of movement in certain areas while the other areas remain frozen. This resulting effect gives a striking and surreal sense of movement to an otherwise ‘still’ photograph.

Cinemagraphs are created using a small section of recorded video. An area of the video is frozen while a portion of the video is left as normal allowing subtle alluring repeated movement.

Both Plotagraphs and Cinemagraphs allow you to create subtle curious otherworldly experience for the viewer. It’s great fun to experiment with and to see what intriguing images can be produced with the software.

I have attached a few of my creations which were produced using Plotagraph Pro and Cinemagraph Pro. This year I really want to create many more and see what I can come up with!

Three examples of  Plotagraphs.

 

Two examples of Cinemagraphs.