Grey Seal Pup's at Horsey

It's time to plan another trip out to Horsey. The beach is the home for dozens of grey seal pup's from late November to early January.

While wildlife photography is not really my thing I can't help but be amused by the antics of some of the older seal pup's that litter the dunes. They make their way up from the cordoned off beach onto the path through the dunes - as if to check out the curious humans that parade up and down. The seals park themselves on the path blocking the way until they've had their pictures taken, (what posers they are). Then after letting out a grumpy bark, they waddle, like over-inflated lilo's, out of your way - as if to say: "move on, I'm bored now, and there are other people waiting to take my picture".


This angelic fellow was the most gregarious (and grumpiest) pup I encountered.  

Technique: I didn't want to disturb the pup's so I kept my distance and used my 18-200mm lens to zoom in as much as I could. Apart from that it was more a matter of waiting for the pups to strike a pose rather than trying to compose the perfect shot. More a case of being patient and taking snapshots - no technique to speak of.

Camera Work: Nikon D80, Raw(21 bit), Focal Length 200mm, Exposure: 1/250 sec. at F/5.6 ISO 400

Post Capture: In Nikon Capture NX2
  • increased Sharpening from (in Camera) Normal to High
  • increased Saturation/Warmth to 75% & 15% resp.
Location & GPS track: An excellent walk that takes in the seals and typical Norfolk Broads scenery, such as that below, can be downloaded, or viewed on Google Earth, from my EveryTrail collection of walks,

see Brograve Pump on the walk
 by following the link: Horsey at EveryTrail

Map created by EveryTrail: GPS Community

Autumn Colour

Autumn is here and its time to exploit the most wonderful woodland sights of Norfolk. That is, if I'm not too late - the recent gales have left most of the trees virtually naked! Not that I really care, as what I've always loved about the Autumn is the leaf litter, the sound of dry leaves rustling under my feet and the musty smell of mushrooms - if I'm lucky I'll find a couple of fresh "Penny Bun's" to pick (Porcini), for a feast when I get home - there are plenty but they're difficult to spot among the leaf litter.

Felbrig's famous ancient Beeches
(many have love letters carved on them by soldiers to their sweethearts before leaving for the Great War)
Location(1): Felbrigg Great Wood
I decided that my best bet, for some good autumnal photos (and Porcini), would be to visit Felbrigg's Great Wood. It's 520 acres contain some really magnificent ancient Beeches that have a strangely meloncholic atmosphere about them.


An avenue of 'younger' trees
Although the wood has always been managed, after the 1987 hurricane, activity accelerated and much of the wood has since been thinned - for safety reasons. The avenue above used to be bordered by a dense growth of 'foriegn' Laurel trees. These were presumably cleared both to improve access to the rest of the wood and to let light onto the forest floor. A great improvement.

The leafless canopy is reflected in a leaf covered pool
The ground is always muddy - even in summer - and there are lots of pools like the one above, from which it's easy to get an alternative view of the canopy. In the summer when the canopy is thick, light cannot get through and reflections like this are rare.

Unfortunately many of the beeches are around 250years old and are dying or dead - making many dangerous.
Location(2): The Beeches, Blickling Park
Moving away from Felbrigg I decided to call in at Blickling to see if there was any foliage left on the beeches in the much smaller wood bordering the east side of the lake. If the wind died down I thought there might just be a chance of recording some autumn reflections in the lake. Huh, no such luck. In stead the weather turned and for much of my walk I had to take shelter from some quite violent showers.

There's not much shelter from the rain to be had here.

Even here the beeches are dying
Apparently beech live for barely 250 years, then die and fall to pieces suddenly. It stands to reason that all the giant beeches, that are now falling down (in both Felbrigg and Blickling), were the original trees planted when the estates were being landscaped. Looked at in that way these photographs are capturing a bit of history - the original giant beeches will not be with us for much longer!
Technique: I knew that the light would not be too good in the woods, so I decided that for once I was going to have to lug my tripod around with me. God I hate tripods - I love the results you get with them (sharp, noiseless images) - but they are so cumbersome and time consuming to set up. But given that they are such a nuisance they do encourage me to walk around a subject and examine every angle and possible composition, before setting up. I suppose it makes me look at a scene more closely - so it's not all bad.
And, since I was going to all that trouble with the tripod I determined to braket each of my shots - -1 ev, o, +1 ev - and if necessary (and if the composition justified the extra work), use them to create a HDR image using Photomatix.
I did contemplate using a polarising filter to help saturate the autumn colours, but in the end decided against the use of ANY filters. I would instead rely on post processing in Capture NX2.
Post Capture: In Capture NX2
Without exception, I was able to select the -1ev image from the bracketed shots fo rpost processing. Thankfully it wasn't neccessary to create HDR images so the other shots were discarded (well I archived them - I can't ever bring myself to destroy anything that might be useful at a later date).
My workflow:
  • change from Non-Picture Control to Picture Control (Landscape) and increase sharpening from 4 to 8
  • consider changes to the White Balance, i.e. from Recorded Value (Auto WB) to Daylight, Cloudy (6000K). My concern with changing WB was that this often gave the sky a warm tint - which was not what I wanted. Only the first of the photos above had its WB adjusted, and I'm still not sure that it was the correct thing to do. (Without the adjustment the image was colder and meloncholy - exactly the emotion I had, esp. after reading the soldiers carvings).
  • make any necessary crops
  • create a warm filter - (R=155,G=73,B=19) - by adding a colorize step (with overlay blending mode - this not only adds colour but increases contrast by darkening dark pixels and lightening light values, without clipping to pure white or black - the equivalent of applying an S shaped curve in Quick Fix) Then adjust the opacity slider.
  • Finally adjust curves, highlight & shadow protection. I found that either an inverted S curve was required to counter lightening of the sky caused by using the overlay blending mode OR use keep a straight line 'curve' and lower the top left slider to reduce the overall brightness of the image.
Location Maps:
Felbrigg


and Blickling


The Great Wall of China

Location: The sections of the Great Wall closest to Beijing are JuYongGuan and BaDaLing. We visited JuYongGuan which has recently been restored and is quieter than the Badaling section (just a short distance further north). I was initially grateful for having come to this part of the wall however it soon dawned on me that all vestiges of antiquity had been removed by the recent 'restoration'. Furthermore the towers had been spoilt by stallholders hanging their goods from the walls. The whole section had been spoilt by commerce and the overweight tourists searching for souvenir fridge magnets and t-shirts. At least by arriving early (9:00am) we had managed to beat the worst of the crowds. But photographically this is NOT one of the great wonders of the world. From the map below you will see that I chose to explore the western section (on the advice of our guide!) but once up there it became clear that the eastern section is far superior.


The much quiter and less commerial Eastern section
But if at all possible take the expressway further north to the much more extensive section at Badaling or The Huanghua Cheng section that is far less developed.

The more extensive Badaling section in the distance.
We had 2 1/2 hours to climb to the highest point and return to the coach. I wasn't quite prepared for just how steep the climb was - it's no exaggeration to say that some sections were close to vertical!


 It took me 50 mins to get to the top- where the wall ended abruptly, with no evidence of it ever going beyond that point. (Obviously a spur off the main wall)? It then took 30 mins to descend and another 15 mins to barge my way through the main tourist shopping area, cross the bridge over the expressway and start the climb up the opposite (eastern) side of this section of the wall.


Keeping an eye on the clock I didn't get very far before I had to turn back for the coach.

Post Capture: In Nikon Capture NX2
For all photos - I switched to Picture Control (Landscape) and re-set sharpening and brightness to 8 and -1 resp. Then apart from minor tweeks to curves and straightening and cropping I made no other adjustments. For once exposure was spot on. 

Xian - Dinner at the Tang Dynasty Theatre Restaurant


Location: Xian Tang Dynasty Theatre Resaurant
Well how do you beat a spectacle like the Terracotta Warriors? You can't, but dinner at the Tang Dynasty Theatre restaurant was the perfect way to round off a truly wonderous day,
It's a place to relax, enjoy a fine meal and delight in an exciting non-stop show of cultural beauty! I enjoyed every bit of it. The girls even seemed to enjoy being photographed - I swear they posed especially for me.


Technique: Well, given the volume of wine I drank there wasn't much technique to talk of. I wasn't going to use flash - and the girls seemed to appreciate that, and rewarded me by looking straight into the lens - so I was again restricted to shooting at a speed of 1/30 sec. on Auto ISO. I just prayed that the noise levels would be acceptable - they turned out to be surprisingly good at ISO 400.


Post Capture: in Nikon Capture NX2
Exposure was surprisingly, perfect for all of my shots. So apart from cropping out the heads of people sat in front of me all I had to adjust was the White Balance - to compensate for all that stage lighting - which I did by manually setting the Gray Point on the first image above, and using (almost) the same settings for all the other images. The colours turned out well I think? 

Xian - The Terracotta Warriors


Location: near Xian
The Army of the Terracotta Warriors was discovered in 1974 by peasants digging a well. The awesome ranks of near lifesize pottery figures, modelled from yellow clay, were made to guard the tomb of Qin Shi Huangdi, despotic ruler who unified China over 2,200 years ago. Excavations yielded three pits and over 7,000 soldiers, archers and horses. Pit 1(illustrated here) contained the infantry; Pit 2 is filled with cavalry and soldiers; and Pit 3 seems to be the command centre, with 70 high ranking officers. Each warrior, originally coloured wit pigment and holding a weapon, has an individually crafted expression. The intricacy is astonishing, especiallly in the careful execution of individual hairstyles. Further artistry is evident in the detailed belts, clothing and footwear.
I just loved the expressions on their faces. I think, more than anything it's the unique facial features that make the warriors so special. It's this that gives you a feeling that you're communing with ghosts from the past. To me the warriors were at one time real and we'd been walking with their spirits. And they just stood there wondering:
"who are these strangely dressed people - and what strange weapons (cameras) are they pointing at us?"
A truly spiritual experience that exceeded all of my expectations.

Technique: I had two concerns:
  1. photography might be restricted, and
  2. lighting would be poor.
I had no need to worry. Contrary to all of the litrature, blogs and web sites I'd visited photography was totally unrestriced - even flash (for what it would be worth) was allowed. Furthermore, although the lighting wasn't great, it was adequate. So all I had to do was set Auto ISO to stop the shutter speed dropping below 1/60 sec.. (As I was going to be using my lens at maximum zoom - even with vibration reduction I didn't trust myself to get sharp shots at lower speeds). I just prayed that noise wasn't going to be too much of an issue. 


Original - before processing in Capture NX2
Post Processing: In Nikon Capture NX2:
- Picture Control set to Landscape and reset: sharpness to 8, contrast to +1, brightness to -1 and saturation to +3.

After processing in Capture NX2
- Colour Noise Reduction Intensity set to 14 and sharpness to 7.
- added Gaussian Blur at radius 1 to the luminance channel (to reduce luminence noise), and
- tweeked Curves to improve the mid-tones by dragging down the centre of the curve.





The post processing was similar to all of the photos taken in Pit 1.


Li River Cruise

From Zhu Jiang Dock to Yangshuo


Reflections in the Li River at the base of Bat Hill
If Shanghai was the starter then LI Jiang was the main course and desert all in one, and I feasted for the whole four and a half hours. The cruise passes through landscape lifted straight out of a Chinese scroll painting. The shallow river meanders between sheer-sided, 300 metre high karst peaks, interspersed with villages and bamboo groves.

It's a region I could easily spend weeks, if not months, exploring and photographing. There was no way I could do justice to this place stood on the deck of a boat cruising along at an average of 8 mph.


The haze started to burn off within an hour of setting off on our cruise

The start of the cruise wasn't very promising as a heavy blanket of mist covered the river (due the very high humidity), but I was assured by our guide that it would clear within the hour - and thankfully it did.


My only problem then was how to cope with both the highlights in the sky, the deep shadows in the karst hills, and the reflections from the river? The books always say use a graduated ND filter to avoid blown highlights in the sky but in this case with the massively irregular horizon I decided it was out of the question - I could do a better job post capture in NX2. I settled on UV and polarising filters - however I admit to forgetting to adjust the polariser for half my shots!


Post Capture: in Capture NX2
For all photos - In the Camera Settings I switched to Picture Control Landscape and reset Sharpening and Brightness to 8 and -1 respectively. In Quick Fix I reduced exposure to bring out detail in the sky and increased Shadow Protection to bring out shadow detail. This left the images looking a bit too dark so after I had finished any cropping I set a White Point in the brightest area of cloud and adjusted luminosity until I had just the right level of overall brightness. (Generally setting the white point to a bright white part of the clouds - that isn't a true white point - makes the image too bright. You are then able to adjust overall brightnes down to the required level using a simple slider).

A scene out of Edgar Rice Burroughs' the 'Land that Time Forgot'. A fantastical land of lush vegetation where dinosaurs might still roam.


An alternative, more flexible, way of travelling down this amazing river.












We were met at Yangshuo by the Cormorant fisherman from the HSBC advert.

To download the GPS track or view on Google Earth follow the link: River Li at EveryTrail alternatively a larger selection of my photos (and locations) can be viewed on the map below, (clicking on Full screen opens a new window)




Shanghai - Cityscapes



I've always concentrated on natural landscapes. Not because I have no interest in 'cityscapes', but rather that the opportunity has never presented itself. At home in Norwich, effective shots would have to be taken at a distance and from a height. The difficulty has always bee in finding this kind of camera position.

Shanghai, on the other hand, presented not only numerous accessible high shooting positions but also lots of other stylistic opportunities. In particular, being able to juxtapose people and cityscape to show how one relates to the other. (The Chinese, if asked, welcome being photographed. Contrast that attitude with the suspicion photographers arouse in Europeans, esp. the English). Shooting city life in China is a joy.

Also the rich mix of architecture, ranging from the futuristic to old Chinese - all within a few hundred yards - give the photographer endless opportunities to create pictures that contrast the old and new.

At night Shanghai is a photographer's paradise. This brash, hugely modern city puts on a massive light show every night. There is the obvious riverside lightshow along the Bund, but less obvious are the neon lights that decorate the underside of the elevated roads - albeit only at certain times of the year.

I was hugely excited at the prospect of visiting Shanghai and I wasn't disappointed.

Location(1): The Pudong district of Shanghai is the home of the tallest buildings in China. Each provides an observation deck - giving the much desired vantage point to observe the cityscape from both height and distance.


Futuristic Shanghai skyline taken from the Jinmao Dasha Observation deck

Technique: It is of course essential to choose the right observation deck if you want to shoot the most interesting buildings. The image above was taken from the Jinmao Dasha building which provides views of both the Shanghai Trade Centre (the Bottle-opener) and the Oriental Pearl TV Tower seen here. (The Jinmao Dasha is not that visually appealing).

Once on the deck you have the problem of photographing through sealed, dirty windows - producing unwanted reflections. I found that the best way to avoid reflections was to place the lens hood directly up against the window (with a polarising filter fitted). The other problem was the haze (caused by pollution) that almost permanently hung over the city. Apparently this only disappears after the air has been cleaned by a storm. However I found it relatively easy to cut through much of the haze during post processing in Capture NX2.

More of a problem, and one that NX2 couldn't help with was 'converging verticals'. I had to create a tif file in NX2 and then use Photoshop's Lens distortion filter to adjust vertical perspective, followed by a very small tweek with the perspective cropping tool.

Camera Work:

original pre-processed image
(note reflection and haze)
Nikon D80, RAW(12 bit),
Focal Length: 18mm;
Exposure: 1/125 sec @ F/16, ISO 400;
White Balance: Auto;
Picture Control: Sharpening 8, Contrast 0, Brightness -1, Saturation 1, Hue 0;
Color Noise Reduction: Intensity 10%, Sharpness 50%;

Post-Capture: In Capture NX2 and Photoshop CS2 


In NX2 -
Guassian Blur: radius 0.69px to luminance channel (to further reduce  luminance noise);
Crop (to remove reflection on left hand side). 
High Pass Sharpening of luminance and chrominance channels (radius 2px)

In Photoshop -
remove converging verticals with a combination of the lens distortion filter and the perspective cropping tool.

Location (2): There is an enormous amount for the eye to take in at any time on the Huangpu River. From the grandiose symbols of the old western commercial power at the Bund, tothe burgeoning modern metropolis symbolising the new power of the east on Pudong. And lets not forget the bustling docks that line the river. But, most spectacular of all is the evening light show on both sides of the river that puts many firework display's to shame. The gawdy lights of Pudong dominate the skyline, overpowering the conservative lighting of the Bund - perhaps symbolising the rising dominance of the east over the west.

 


In the evening people throng to enjoy the spectacular lights of Pudong's modern skyline.

Technique: I took one of the many river tours and positioned myself at the rear of the boat's crowded top deck, where I had a good view of both sides of the river. I stubbornly refused to move for the whole journey for fear of someones head blocking my view.


The Shanghai Financial Centre towers over the Jinmao Dasha

Since I had no tripod (I wouldn't have been able to use it anyway), and I was on a moving boat, I set my camera to shoot at 1/15 sec with Auto ISO. This is the lowest speed I've found I'm capable of using with my VR (vibration Reduction) lens, and still get sharp images. I knew I'd experience a lot of noise at the High ISO levels (most pictures were shaot at ISO 1600) - I reconciled myself to having to spending a lot of time removing noise post capture.
For each image I took a minimum of 3 shots in the hope that at least one would be sharp. However when I found myself using long focal lengths - the twin towers shot above was at maximum zoom of 200mm focal length - I took up to 8 shots. The problem here was the rapid change of shooting angle due to the moving boat limiting the number of shots I could take before the composition was completely changed.



 The conservatively lit Customs House dominates the Bund.

Post Capture: processing was limited to noise removal - a two step process involving first using NX2's color noise reduction tool followed by the application of Gaussian Blur to the luminance channel.

follow the link to view slideshow of the Pudong and the river cruise

Map created by EveryTrail: Travel Community

Location(3) exploring the beautiful Ming dynasty Yu Gardens is a relatively peaceful way to get away from the frenzied activity of Shanghai.



juxtaposition of the traditional and the modern

Technique: Unfortunately on the day of my visit the sky was a featureless haze, and as I was spending most of my time looking up at the amazing roofs (ancient and modern) there was little I could do to avoid the its glare. The picture above illustrates the problem -
  • I needed depth of field to retain focus of the close up traditional roof structures and the distant modern skyscraper,
  • I needed to expose for both the shadows and the bright sky - exposing for the sky I would have to post process in NX2 to get back detail in the shadows at the risk of creating noise, alteratively I could expose for the shadows and produce a burnt out sky.

Depth of field wasn't a problem, exposure was. In the end I took the middle way and suffered with both problems!! As the sky was featureless I should have exposed for the shadows - oh well thats another lesson learned.
Conclusion: Shanghai is a wonderful place for the photographer I wish I could have toured the city at my own pace, but as always there was a schedule to keep to.



outside the garden walls the pace of life in Old Shanghai is frenzied


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