Sunday, 29 June 2014

Songs from the Musicals with Budd & Saunders

Budd and Saunders - 3

A charitable concert was staged at our local church in Fishbourne last week, featuring Budd and Saunders who are a very talented musical duet. Kenton Budd sang the vocals and Nic Saunders accompanied him on the electric piano, whilst also performing some solo keyboard works for the first time, all inspired by the Weald and Downland Museum which lies in the small village of Singleton, just north of Chichester.

Budd and Saunders - 2

They principally performed well known songs from famous stage Musicals both past and present. The acoustics in the church were superb and the late evening summer sun shone through the leaded light windows. It acted like a floodlight on Kenton as he sang with passion and feeling for the story being told by the lyrics.

Budd and Saunders - 1

Budd and Saunders - 5

I was using my trusted Olympus EM1 and 75mm f1.8 lens. Shooting mainly at f2 at ISO 2000, this gave me enough speed to freeze the action and capture some sharp images. I used Lightroom for some basic processing before converting to black and white in Silver Efx Pro2 starting with the Fine Art preset.

Budd and Saunders - 4

An excellent creative evening both musically and from my point of view, photographically speaking as well.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

My first commission - Taking the photographs

This is the second entry in a short series about my first ever commission. The first entry 'Agreeing the brief', can be found here.

Having talked through the brief and worked out a time scale for the commission, the next stage was to get out with my camera and take some shots. This proved rather more difficult than I anticipated. The weather in the early part of the year can only be described as atrocious. Heavy and frequent rain, coupled with high winds are not ideal conditions for taking photographs and certainly not the ones which would conform to the brief we had agreed. Whenever I had spare time, the weather seemed to be against me, so the weeks passed by and no shots ad been taken. The time scale was looking increasingly unrealistic but finally the forecast appeared a little more promising and I set a day aside to visit Portsmouth and the various locations listed in the brief - Gunwharf Quay, Old Portsmouth, Port Solent and their offices at Lakeside at North Harbour. A lot to fit in and I knew another visit to some of these locations might be necessary.

Bow in reflection
Bow in reflection - Port Solent

First stop - Port Solent. The idea here was to capture some more abstract images of the sailing boats in the harbour together with their reflections in the water. I must have spent an hour at this location before deciding that I had enough images to work with back at home.  A short detour and I drove down to the harbour and looked across the water to Porchester. There was a good view from here and the clouds were interesting, so more shutter releases were made.

Towards Porchester
Towards Porchester

Next stop and I thought I would visit the location of Vail Williams offices at Lakeside at North Harbour. I had been told I would need permission to take any photographs, so this quick stop was to explore what opportunities there might be for another day.

Office grater
Office Grater - Lakeside, North Harbour

After Lakeside I made my way to Old Portsmouth. It was late morning, the weather still good and although I had visited this part of the city before I was unsure what subjects I might want to photograph, even though I had done some research at home using Google Maps. The area proved to be quite fruitful and I was happy with some of the shots I had taken.

Old Portsmouth
Old Portsmouth

A short break for lunch and instead of taking the car, out of the boot came my Brompton folding bike and I cycled round to Gunwharf Quay. Having the bike really enabled me to move around so much more quickly than I could have done on foot. I knew Gunwharf quite well and had taken photographs at this location before, so I pretty much knew what I wanted to try and achieve.

No 1, Gunwharf Quay
No 1, Gunwharf Quay

By now it was getting fairly late in the day but I had one more place to go to - Gosport, not that I wanted to take photographs of Gosport itself but I was very aware that the views from here across Portsmouth Harbour and towards Gunwharf itself were well worth taking. I had left this location until the end of the day, because the setting sun would be behind me and hopefully the light would be right to illuminate the buildings across the water including of course Spinnaker Tower. I was very fortunate the light could not have been better.

The sun finally set and the last images of the day had been captured. I was tired but satisfied with my days work so I headed home, keen to transfer the files from the SD card onto my iMac and get them backed up.

It had been a very fulfilling day. The research I had done beforehand had been well worthwhile and the weather on the day could not have been better. Blue skies with good clouds and plenty of light to create some contrasty black and white images.

A few days later I made arrangements to meet up with Ian Froome of Vail Williams at Lakeside. It gave me the chance to see round their offices as well as having the required permission to take internal and external shots of the office complex, which was home to many businesses large and small. There were plenty of opportunities here for some quite graphic architectural photography and I enjoyed looking for different angles and reflective surfaces.

The task of taking photographs nearly complete, the next stage would be to process a selection of images for the client to see. This will be the topic of next entry.

Friday, 20 June 2014

My first commission - Agreeing the brief

Towards Gunwharf
Towards Gunwharf

This is the first in a short series describing my first ever commission. I will illustrate these entries with some of the photographs chosen by the client, as well as a selection which didn't make their final short list but I thought were worth including.

This all started back in December, but I only successfully completed the commission a couple of months ago. Now the project is well and truly complete, I feel comfortable sharing the experience.

It was just before Christmas when I displayed some of my photographs on a stand at a local Christmas Fayre in aid of The St Peter Project. I was very pleased to sell a couple of my framed prints and quite a number of people said how much they enjoyed looking at my work. As I was about to pack everything away, one particular person approached me and he told me that earlier last year his firm had moved offices but the walls were looking rather blank. His name was Ian Froome and he asked me if I would be willing to take some photographs, mount and frame them ready for hanging in their hall and meeting room. I was rather taken aback and explained that whilst I had sold a few of my photographs I had never undertaken any sort of commission work. Of course I was interested and we agreed to meet in the New Year to discuss a possible brief and to establish some sort of budget.

Sunsail 4010

We got together in January and he showed me a plan of their offices and a few internal photographs so that  I could get an idea of what might be required. The offices were typically modern and large (A2 size) monochrome photographs would look excellent. We both thought that eight framed images would be sufficient but what subjects did they want and how much should I charge?

Fortunately Ian already had a clear idea of what he and his staff thought they might like and he had agreed a budget with his Finance Partner. I made it clear that I did not wish to make a profit so providing they covered my expenses for materials etc, the difference could be paid to The St Peter Project by way of a donation. He was very happy with this arrangement and we went on to discuss in more detail the type of images he felt would suit the offices.

1000 Lakeside

Perhaps at this stage I should say that the company concerned is Vail Williams a firm of commercial property agents and their offices are at Lakeside, North Harbour in Portsmouth. The town of Portsmouth has a variety of architecture as well as two attractive harbours, one at Port Solent the other at Gunwharf Quays. In addition to capturing something of the area, he was also keen we had some images of the offices where they are based. Some abstract work would also be considered. We looked at examples of my work on my iPad and he pointed out ones that he liked and ones he didn't. This helped to give me an idea of might appeal but perhaps more importantly what wouldn't!

Roof light
Lakeside Rooflight

Given we were in the middle of winter coupled with the fact that I do not take photographs professionally, I was keen to agree a generous time scale. I said that I would hope to have a selection of images for him to look at in 6 to 8 weeks, or in other words by the early part of March.

Last but not least, and never having been asked to do this type of work before, I made it quite clear that should his team of staff not like any of the photographs, he should not feel compelled to have them and obviously I would not make any charge. I explained that I love being out and about taking photographs anyway, so I would still enjoy the taking if not the making.

In my next entry I will write about the photographs themselves. The link for this entry is here.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

A swift look at Cambridge

Old Street, Cambridge
Old Street Cambridge

There are two widely known University towns in England, one being Oxford, the other Cambridge. Although I have visited Oxford on a number of occasions, I can only recall having been to Cambridge once before, and this was many, many years ago for reasons I can no longer remember. It certainly wasn't to further my academic education! So when my wife and I were invited to visit some distant relatives for lunch, it gave us the opportunity to look around the town for an hour or two before returning home. It was a Saturday afternoon so the lovely streets, lined by some beautiful college buildings were packed with students, shoppers and visitors, who were all enjoying the early summer sunshine.

Corpus Christi College, Cambridge
Corpus Christi College

There was so much to see and we only scratched the surface, conscious of the fact that a three hour drive lay ahead of us and it had already been quite a long day.

Without question it's another town to add to the ever-growing list of places to revisit, explore and photograph, but for now here are small selection of images which say something about this rather special University town.

All the images were taken with the Olympus OMD EM1 and Panasonic 12 - 35mm f2.8 zoom lens. A great combination when you want to 'travel light' and have a versatile set up ready for most photographic opportunities without compromising on quality.

Reflections of University life
Reflections of University Life

Punting along The River Cam
Punting along The River Cam

Cambridge canoe
Cambridge Canoe

Kings College, Cambridge
Kings College

Rubbish Busker
Rubbish busker

Friday, 6 June 2014

Leica M - The 'Test Drive'

The Leica Akademie in Mayfair London
Taken using the Leica M with 35mm Summicron @ f5.7 1/250th sec ISO 320 and
onverted to mono in Lightroom with minor crop and adjustments for exposure

In my last entry I wrote briefly about the 100 years of Leica and mentioned that I would be attending a workshop at the Leica Akademie in Mayfair in London to 'Test Drive' the Leica M and hopefully the Monochrom as well. The use of the term 'test drive' could imply a pending purchase and I knew I ran the risk that temptation might take over and all logical thought disappear. After all, I already have an excellent camera system and lenses, so why would I want to invest in something else?  Well the Leica M System is something very special and I told myself that this was an opportunity for me to try a rangefinder camera for the very first time and see whether or not I enjoyed the experience. With luck I would get to use both the M and the Monochrom. I would then be able to compare the functionality, handling, and the results from both cameras. Most importantly it would make up my mind once and for all whether or not the Leica M system was for me and provide the future direction for my photography.

The Leica M
Taken with the Leica M and 50mm Summicron lens @f3.4 1/125th sec ISO 1600
Crop, some sharpening but no exposure corrections

Looking back I guess this 'dream' all started a couple of years ago when Leica announced the Monochrom, a camera based on the M9 but with a sensor that only recorded luminance and not colour. In other words it only records images in black and white. It was around this same time that my love of black and white photography was just beginning and as a consequence I have been intrigued by the 'Monochrom' ever since.

Even those with a limited interest in photography and cameras will know that Leica is a premium brand and so the very idea that one day I might own a Leica and say a lens or two, still seems a very distant one. Not only that, but could I really ever justify spending even more on a Monochrom over and above the already expensive M? Given the fact that well over 90% of my work is in black and white, and hence the appeal of the Monochrom, would the improved functionality and larger sensor of the Leica M be a winning combination?

So last weekend I headed off to London and spent time on the train reading a number of reviews about both cameras including an in depth write up of the Monochrom by Thorsten Overgaard and another three part review by Ming Thien. By the time I had reached Victoria station I had almost convinced myself I would prefer the Monochrom, but would this feeling change later on once I had tried both cameras and compared the results?

Robin Sinha of the Leica Akademie demonstrating the Leica M
Taken with the Leica M and 50mm Summicron lens @ f3.4 1/60th sec ISO 1600
Minor crop and removed colour saturation to convert to mono. No other adjustments.

The afternoon was hosted by Robin Sinha who works at the Akademie in Mayfair and is a very fine photographer in his own right. Click through to his website here. I, together with three other aspiring Leica owners were shown the M, its simple controls and the basic settings to get us started. We inserted our own SD card and having proven our identity, were sent out onto the streets of London to take some of our own shots with the Leica M and in my case a 35mm f2 Summicron lens. We had about an hour to enjoy the rangefinder experience but after half an hour I returned to the Akadamie to switch cameras and pick up the Monochrom, again with the 35mm Summicron lens.

Everything I had been told or had read about the Leica Rangefinder experience proved to be true and within a matter of minutes of taking my first shot with the M, I had formed my first impressions. The camera is a beautifully crafted piece of equipment, a joy to hold and so very different to anything I had used before and yet I instantly felt at home.  I also felt less conspicuous taking photographs. Why I don't know but it definitely felt different to shooting with my Olympus EM1 or a large DSLR. Potentially this was bad news as temptation might raise its head and the bank balance would swiftly be depleted!

In essence the camera's controls are simple yet tactile. The manual focus ring moves very smoothly, yet has just the right amount of resistance not to move once set. The shutter on the M is precise and quiet, lock the exposure with a half press. I could hear the shutter being released, but I doubt those around me knew a photograph had been captured. Although I found the optical viewfinder and rangefinder focusing relatively easy there were times when it was somewhat awkward and I soon realised it would take quite a bit of practice to focus accurately, particularly if using a lens wide open and so reducing the depth of field. I also found it more difficult to hold and use the camera in portrait mode, but again I am sure this would feel more comfortable with practice. Wearing glasses probably didn't help either but really this was no different to using my current camera. I soon likened the Leica M to a finely tuned sports car. Choose your settings wisely, handle correctly and with care and they would both yield great results, but practice, followed by more practice would be a necessary requirement.

Monochrom dreaming
The Leica Monochrom and 35mm Summicron lens
Taken with the Leica M and 50mm Summicron lens, straight from camera using
black and white jpeg setting. f2.8 1/125th sec ISO 1600

And now to the Monochrom. It was slightly lighter than the M but no less substantial. The shutter release felt different and Robin had set it to 'discreet' mode and I now wish it had been left in 'standard' mode. The screen on the back of the camera was also smaller in size than the M and the resolution much poorer as well. When reviewing images, the M is far superior, to the point where I could not tell if I had focused correctly on the Monochrom even when I zoomed into a small part of the image. This wasn't very reassuring and didn't give me the same level of confidence when using this camera. The M wins hands down in this respect. Robin had also told us that the battery life was much improved on the M and that it also has a faster processor. It has to be remembered that the Monochrom is based on the M9, a camera which is now four plus years old. Leica and technology have moved on. The Monochrom is starting to show its age, but like a good antique it will always have its own unique character, despite its shortcomings.

A couple of street photographs

Being observed
Taken 'shooting from the hip' with the Leica Monochrom and 35mm Summicron
@ f9.5 1/180th sec ISO 400
Crop and minor adjustments in Lightroom

Lady & Dogs
Taken with the Leica Monochrom and 35mm Summicron lens @ 10,000 ISO and f8 1/1500th sec
Whilst their is grain/noise, this image even on a large screen is perfectly usable despite the
high ISO - in fact it has a rather unique character.

The time flew by and although I took a good number of images I could easily have carried on for much longer.   At this point I swiftly reminded myself that this was a complimentary workshop and I was very fortunate to have some freedom with both cameras, and not just hold and look at them admiringly in a shop, which tells you absolutely nothing about how they might perform in the real world.

Comparing colour and mono conversion from the Leica M

Taken using the Leica M and 50mm Summicron lens @f2.8 1/250th sec ISO 320
Minor adjustments for exposure in Lightroom

Same RAW file converted to black and white in Lightroom
The distracting 'red' elements in the colour image are lost in the mono version which is
probably why I prefer to work in black and white.

Back at The Akademie we downloaded a few shots and looked at them in Lightroom, but given limited time it was almost impossible to compare the results of the two cameras and for that pleasure I would have to wait until I returned home. At this stage I rather expected the sales pitch to start, but I was delighted when it didn't happen. Robin clearly respected the fact that this would be a major expense for any one of us and time would be needed to make the correct buying decision, not just which camera to buy (if at all) but also which lens or lenses. We said our goodbyes and I am very grateful to the Leica Store in Mayfair and of course to Robin Sinha for his advice, time, expertise and knowledge, not to mention of course the opportunity to shoot with such wonderful equipment. Whether I choose to buy a Leica or not, I will always remember the experience and if nothing else I have a number of images which will remind me of the day!

Detail in the shadows

Taken with the Leica M and 35mm Summicron @F2 1/1000th sec ISO 200

A straight crop in Lightroom from the image above with a mask and exposure adjustment in the doorway to bring back all the detail in the shadow areas. 

I have included some of the shots taken during the afternoon together with some data and brief comments. This information together with a closer study of other images will help make up my mind. There is no question that both cameras produce wonderfully detailed images, although the Monochrom in my humble opinion just has the edge. It also has the ability to take shots at ISO 10,000 in extreme circumstances. Whilst a little noisy at 10,000 the grain is more film like and can be reduced in post processing. This extra latitude could be useful in low light situations. In comparison I would say the maximum usable ISO on the M is between 1600 and 3200.

Remarkable resolution from the Leica Monochrom

Taken with the Leica Monochrom and 35mm Summicron lens @ f4.8 1/750th sec ISO 320
The RAW file straight from the camera with no adjustments

A 100% crop of the above image. the detail is astonishing.

Comparison between colour and mono conversion from the Leica M and 
straight black and white from the Leica Monochrom

Taken with the Leica M and 35mm Summicron lens @ f2.4 1/1500th sec  ISO 200
Minor adjustments for exposure and colour correction in Lightroom

As above but straight conversion to black and white in Lightoom

The same Range Rover but this time taken with the Leica Monochrom and 35mm Summicron  @ f4 which explains why there is more detail in the background.
Minor adjustments in Lightoom to bring back some shadow detail.

In conclusion the M is the better all round camera, The functionality is better, live view is useful and it just feels more modern without losing the simplicity of a Leica Rangefinder. It also takes colour photographs but so does the camera I use at the moment! The Monochrom has more than its fair share of quirks but it also produces the very finest black and white digital images. In this respect alone the M comes close and probably close enough from my point of view. I now realise that to master a Leica Rangefinder and in particular the Monochrom would be hugely rewarding. With either camera a large print would show every small detail and whilst the end result matters, it's also terribly important to enjoy the journey along the way as well. Photography for me is a hobby, and most of all it should be fun. If I do buy a Leica then my head tells me to go for the M, but my heart leads me to the Monochrom!

A fellow photographer once said to me that in order to get the best possible results from your equipment you should 'love' your camera, and perhaps there lies the answer. I will finish with that thought but I am sure to return to this topic in the near future.

Ferrari California
Ferrari California
Taken with the Leica Monochrom and 35 Summicron lens @f2.8 1/3000th sec ISO 2500
A crop in Lightroom and some adjustments in Silver Efex Pro2
I couldn't resist capturing this thoroughbred sports car
with a truly thoroughbred camera - The Leica Monochrom