Three Queens at dusk

On Sunday I was blessed with idea conditions for shooting long-exposure shots on Southampton Water: no wind, still water and clear skies. A little more cloud in the background would have been good, but you can’t have everything.

Better still, the tide was out as far as it would go. This was pure chance but meant I could walk out further than I ever thought possible, whilst keeping a careful eye on what the water was doing. I checked the tide times later and found that my visit had coincided exactly with low tide.

I was there to photograph Cunard liners . They were in Southampton for a day before the start of their 120-day 2016 world cruises. Queen Elizabeth is heading south and east to Australia and the Far East via St. Helena and South Africa, returning via India and the Suez Canal:

RMS Queen Elizabeth
RMS Queen Elizabeth

This shot isn’t quite as sharp as I hoped. It was a four-second exposure at F18 to turn lights into starbursts but, with hindsight, the sand on which I placed my tripod was a little on the soft side.

Next I set my sights on Queen Victoria. She is heading west around the world via New York, the Panama Canal and New Zealand, returning via Australia, Vietnam and South Africa. Moving back a few feet onto firmer ground, my images were tack-sharp. I was pleased to be able to include shingle in the foreground to give a sense of scale:

RMS Queen Victoria
RMS Queen Victoria

On the far left of the shot is the clock tower of Southamton’s Art Deco Civic Centre. Here’s a close up:

RMS Queen Victoria
RMS Queen Victoria

With their red, white and black livery, Cunard Liners always look the most aristocratic of the cruise lines.

Finally, Queen Mary 2 was shortly to set sail on her first global circumnavigation since 2009. She’s sailing via New York, Cape Horn, Easter Island, New Zealand and Australia to the Far East and India, returning to Southampton via the Suez Canal. The quayside partly hid her from view, but all the buildings and yachts give a good sense of scale:

RMS Queen Mary 2
RMS Queen Mary 2

Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay for the traditional fireworks that mark their departure but, as a previous post of mine shows, they look spectacular!

I’m on Instagram

I’ve joined Instagram.  The key point about this social network is that it’s all about photos: that’s what you post, every time. So it’s the obvious place for a photographer to be. As Scott Kelby asks: ‘how can you not be there?’

For me, there were two reasons. The first was practical: my old phone was just too slow, outdated and underpowered for the Instagram app. Secondly, my impression was that it’s inhabited almost exclusively by vain, selfie-snapping celebrities and their wannabee followers. Having joined, I can see that many high-profile photographers are present and active, sharing great images with their legions of Instagram followers.

So if you’re an aspiring photographer like me, sign up today and start sharing your work there. You’ll find me there at instagram.com/3dbrenton. I’m also on Twitter, Google Plus, Flickr and 500px.

 

Sunset in the New Forest

Today was the last day in October and it was warm enough to have lunch out in the garden. Afterwards my wife and I drove down through the New Forest to Exbury. We hoped to reach a fort on the mouth of the Beaulieu River but it turned out to be on private land and we had to turn back. We did, however, get a couple of cute shots of ponies enjoying the afternoon sunshine:

Ponies by the Solent
Ponies by the Solent

On the way back, we stopped at Hatchet Pond, where I captured a beautiful sunset:

Sunset over Hatchet Pond
Sunset over Hatchet Pond

As it turned out, I wasn’t alone!

Fellow photographers at Hatchet Pond
Fellow photographers at Hatchet Pond

A final image for Hallowe’en:

Hallowe'en falls
Hallowe’en falls

Romsey Food Festival 2015

Romsey’s annual food festival took place yesterday. The first really sunny and warm day for what felt like several weeks drew the crowds and created a great atmosphere. Here are my favourite photos from the day.

Romsey Food Festival in full swing
Romsey Food Festival in full swing
Harrisons Catering Pizza Ovens (?)
Harrisons Catering Pizza Ovens (?)
Karuna Coffee
Karuna Coffee
Asian cuisine
Asian cuisine
La Patisserie Macaron
La Patisserie Macaron
Naz's Cuisine
Naz’s Cuisine
Peppercorn Natural Foods
Peppercorn Natural Foods
Concentration!
Concentration!

This album is also available on Flickr.

Tangmere in deepest Hampshire

Yesterday evening I went out to Lockerley, a lovely village to the west of Romsey that boasts two separate greens, to catch the Dorset Coast Express, a steam special hauled by ‘Tangmere’, on its return journey to London. The weather, unseasonably cold at the moment, yielded some interesting clouds:

Tangmere in deepest Hampshire
Tangmere in deepest Hampshire

Unusually, the cattle didn’t seem to be fazed by the iron horse racing past them, belching clouds of steam and soot!

 

Evening photography at the Sky Garden

Last week, I paid another visit to London, taking my camera with me. Late in the afternoon, I went down to the Thames and captured long-exposure shots of the Shard from the north side of the river:

Tower and light cloud
The Shard

Then I paid my second visit to the Sky Garden (my first was earlier this year, when sunset was before 6pm). Here’s what it looks like inside:

Interior of the Sky Garden
Interior of the Sky Garden

Interior of the Sky GardenLast time I was unable to take any photos across the city because of all the reflections from interior lights, but this time I came prepared.

As with virtually all indoor visitor attractions nowadays, tripods aren’t allowed, so I didn’t even bother getting mine out. Instead, I cradled my camera on scrunched-up bubble wrap atop a low window-sill. Exposure-bracketing combined with my camera’s self-timer yielded a series of shots that I could combine using Lightroom’s new HDR feature, and manual exposure-blending in Photoshop. Unfortunately, the skies failed to clear, as I had hoped. Even so, as dusk fell and the city lights came on, I secured a series of memorable shots westwards across the London skyline and, before I packed up to catch my train, eastwards towards Canary Wharf.

The start of dusk in London
The start of dusk in London
The lights start to come on in London
The lights start to come on in London
Night falls over St. Paul's Cathedral
Night falls over St. Paul’s Cathedral
Night falls over Canary Wharf
Night falls over Canary Wharf

Freeze frame versus motion blur

Several steam train specials run across the British mainline network some 50 years since steam traction was withdrawn from the network – testament to a very British nostalgia. They make excellent photographic subjects and I captured a couple near my home in Hampshire recently. The first was captured at a shutter speed of 1/1600 second and completely freezes the action:

Steam locomotive speeding through a railway station
Steam at speed

The only give-away that the train isn’t stationary is the smoke billowing behind the loco.

Last week I tried another technique, standing much further back and panning as it rounded a curve:

Steam train
Mayflower at full steam

 

My shutter speed of 1/60 second blurred the background slightly while keeping the locomotive in sharp focus. This conveyed the sense of motion much better, even though this train was travelling at half the speed of the other one.

Why not give it a try? It would work well on cars, HGVs, cyclists, horses or even runners.

 

5 tips for photographing a city in under an hour

One of the highlights of a recent holiday to Switzerland was a lightning visit to Zürich. Staying at Chur, some 70 miles to the east, I used my Swiss Pass to take a train to the city’s central station. Arriving just after 9.20pm, to be fair to my wife who wouldn’t really have wanted me to wake the hotel up at 1am, I needed to be on a return train 45 minutes later.

My plan was to get as close as I could to the shore of the lake as possible and then work my way back up the Linmatquai, taking long-exposure shots along the river. A tram going in the right direction came within a couple of minutes of waiting and took me to a suitable stop in about 10 minutes. I abandoned the idea of going right to the lake front, lest it took me too long to get back, and made instead for the Münsterbrücke. As I was setting up my tripod, all the nearby building floodlights were switched on, taking the beauty of the scene to a completely different level:

Grossmünster, Zürich
Grossmünster, Zürich

This is looking further along the quayside towards the Rathaus:

River in historic city at dusk
Rathaus, Zürich

Then I moved adjacent to the Rathaus and got a really nice shot along the other bank, dominated by the Frauenmünster:

Zürich – Fraumünster und Münsterbrücke
Zürich – Fraumünster und Münsterbrücke

Finally, with the clock towards my train home starting to tick very loudly, I snatched one last shot of the Groβmünster:

Zürich – Grossmünster
Zürich – Grossmünster

Walking briskly and then running down the station concourse, I made it to my train home with a minute to spare!

So here are the lessons I draw from my crazy night:

1. Research what you want to photograph beforehand. Sites like 500px.com and Flickr are invaluable planning tools, whilst apps like the Photographer’s Ephemeris will tell you when the sun’s going to rise or set.

2. Work out how to get there and, if time is very limited, what you can cut out of your itinerary.

3. Set up quickly and efficiently. I travelled with a Lowepro Fastpack 350, which enables quick access to my camera body. Beneath a  flap it also carries my light-weight travel tripod. Assembling this involves extending legs that each telescope into five segments, so this was a little time-consuming, but usually it’s a worthwhile trade-off against bulk.

4. Take your personal security seriously. I was alone, carrying expensive gear in a strange city at nightfall, so I stuck to popular areas that should be safer.

5. If you get the opportunity like this, take it! I got some great shots, and since I was travelling on a pre-paid travel pass, the evening didn’t cost me a pfennig extra.

5 lessons I learned from Scott Kelby’s Shoot like a pro seminar

Man in darkened room

Yesterday I was in the audience for the only London date on Scott Kelby’s Shoot like a pro – reloaded seminar. It was well worth the early start to get there.

Scott went through five different topic and without giving away all the content from each of them, these are my key take-aways:

1. Composition is key. You choose what your viewer sees, so don’t be afraid to crop. That most iconic images of the 20th Century, Che Guevara, omits another person and what looks like an large potted plant!

2. Don’t be afraid to ramp up contrast in images, especially of architecture and landscapes. Colours in unprocessed raw images files tends to be more muted compared with JPG files that have had adjustments applied in-camera. Processing raw data in Lightroom means that you can recover more detail and push adjustments like this further without sacrificing image quality.

3. You can achieve really impressive lighting effects on a small budget. Flattering light, especially for female subjects needs, to be soft, meaning a big light source. Scott recommended the 50-inch Westcott JS Apollo which currently retails on Amazon for £209. Off-camera flash units and remote triggers are now also very affordable.

4. In an age where almost all images are now seen on screen, printed photos are a powerful tool in building relationships. Whether as a large wall print or a small photo book, you can use them to say thank you, to open doors to otherwise inaccessible locations and to demonstrate your credibility as a serious photographer. They offer the recipient a tactile experience and ensure that you are remembered with respect and perhaps even affection.

5. Shoot really wide or shoot really tight. In full-frame terms, kit lenses typically cover the 24 to 70 mm range, so shoot either side of this to create photos that stand out. Go wide in a cathedral to convey the grandeur and sheer scale of its architecture or use a long lense and a wide f2.8 aperture to completely separate your model from a messy background.

The seminar series returns to the US next week but, having attracted an audience of 300 yesterday, I hope Scott will return here next year. I’ve watched his weekly photography discussion show, The Grid, for the last couple of years and briefly said hello yesterday. He talked affably to a steady stream of people during the breaks between sessions and certainly generated a lot of positive social media buzz:

Collage of tweets
Tweets from fellow delegates

If you’re looking to develop your photographic skills, attending a KelbyOne Live seminar like this one is a good investment.

Reflections on the Dream of Gerontius

Clouds

I was fortunate enough to learn and sing The Dream of Gerontius with the Somerset Chamber Choir last summer in Wells Cathedral. It’s a piece I’ve know and loved since hearing it at the Three Choirs Festival in Gloucester Cathedral over 20 years ago. Last night I attended a performance by the Royal Choral Society and Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in Winchester Cathedral. Here are some thoughts about the piece that might inform your appreciation.

The Prelude to Gerontius is pure Parsifal, from its mysterious, yearning opening theme on lower woodwind and strings through to its awe-inspiring climax underpinned by the cathedral organ – evocative in this acoustic of rolling thunder – and back to a concentrated hush for the anguished entry of the tenor soloist as Gerontius. Willingly or not, Wagner was a powerful influence on a range of composers at the turn of the Twentieth Century, not least Bruckner, Mahler, Richard Strauss and even Debussy.

The Kyrie, with which the semi-chorus enters a capella, is a clear nod to the ancients of polyphony – Palestrina, Byrd and Tallis. Verdi pays similar homage in the Kyrie of his Requiem; Rossini does likewise in his Petite messe solennelle. With its invocation to All holy Angels, Apostles, Holy Disciples, Innocents, Martyrs, Hermits and Saints to pray for him, this chorus is really a litany in the High Catholic tradition, continued in the section Be merciful after the soliloquy by Gerontius, Rouse thee, my fainting soul.

His next entry ‘Sanctus fortis, Sanctus Deus’ could easily pass muster as an aria on the operatic stage. A personal creed, it stands in direct opposition to Iago’s expression of nihilism and malice by  in Verdi’s Otello. As in Wagner, leitmotifs knit the work together and in the latter half of this solo, we hear the orchestra foreshadowing the the Demons’ Chorus from Part Two.

Rescue him, the next choral entry, returns us to the chantry chapel for more responses lightly accompanied by organ. Cardinal Newman wrote 13 verses in his poem but, in order not to lose all dramatic momentum, Elgar set only three of them.

Upon the death of Gerontius, the Priest his soul upon its journey in a sonorous bass declamation ‘Proficiscere, anima Christiana’. The way Elgar builds the orchestral crescendo until the entry of the choir and beyond is masterful – a real emotional release. Yet the movement ends quietly, after a slightly curious, oscillating choral figure, And my thy dwelling place be the Holy Mount of Sion, in a warm, sunset glow of orchestral colour beneath the choir and bass soloist.

The brief prelude for strings that opens Part Two evokes the music of the Tudor era; it certainly occupies the same sound world as the Tallis Fantasia by  Vaughan Williams. After the agitation and anguish of Part One, we are audibly in a different dimension: of inexpressible lightness and freedom, as Gerontius describes it.

The Angel who shortly appears turns out to have been his no less than Gerontius’s own guardian angel, watching over him throughout his life.  Their dialogue is accompanied by luminous orchestral writing dominated by woodwind; the scene hints at what a love duet in an Elgar opera might have sounded like.

Rapture is shattered by the entry of the Demon’s chorus. This shows Elgar at his most progressive in terms of musical style, with harsh dissonances, vigorous counterpoint and sneering brass making the most of this tirade of atheistic abuse: ‘Virtue and vice, / A knoves pretence / ‘Tis all the same, Ha! Ha!’ I wonder whether Britten drew on it in some way when writing the storm music in Peter Grimes.

After their wild music dies uneasily away and another brief dialogue between Gerontius and the Angel, the music of the Choir of Angelicals steals in. Sopranos and contraltos have to be on their mettle in this section, which splits into multiple parts. Elgar again builds tension with rising string figures, a long organ pedal note and other musical devices towards the great choral peroration Praise to the holiest in the height. Like the Demon’s Chorus, it sets off in a vigorous fugue, albeit one with a completely different mood. I wonder whether the one-in-a-bar conclusion to this thrilling section, however, inspired Walton to any degree when he wrote the concluding chorus ‘Then sing aloud’ to Belshazzar’s Feast?

Next follows what I think is the biggest textual coup-de théâtre in the whole piece, as Gerontius tells the Angel that he hears the voices of those left on Earth and learns, to the strains of the Dismissal theme, that they those of his friends praying just after his death. Thus all of the  celestial drama we have heard over the past half-hour has actually occupied but a second of temporal time.

After the Angel of the Agony weighs in with a sonorous plea for the soul of Gerontius, he goes before his Judge to the strains of a couple of heartbeats from the orchestra: a real cinematic device and, from the relief expressed by the Angel, ‘Praise to his name! / O happy suffering soul! for it is safe, Consumed, yet quickened, by the glance of God.’

The final tenor solo, in which Gerontius readies himself for Purgatory, is again highly Wagnerian, drawing on themes from the Sanctis fortis section in Part One. It is followed by a chorus of Souls in Purgatory singing verses from Psalm 90, Lord, Thou has been our refuge, before the Angel enters with her farewell. There is one small detail I especially love in this final aria: a gorgeous woodwind counter-melody at the words ‘Sinking deep, deeper, into the dim distance’. The chorus resumes its chant beneath the Angel for the final pages and the work concludes with a deeply satisfying rising and falling string figure evocative of a great, flowing river. For Wagner in the Ring Cycle it was the Rhine; for Elgar in The Dream of Gerontius perhaps it is the Severn?