Friday, March 31, 2006

The Golden Age

I believe we have entered the golden age of photography. Why is that?

Well I see more and more people outdoors with their cameras for starters - and not just tourists either.

What's more the cameras themselves are getting better each day. And lets be honest, the digital camera is much more fun to use than a film camera ever was. Just about anyone can use a camera these days.

Then there is the hardware - computers and printers have never been cheaper.

And of course lets not forget the internet. This blog for example was created in a matter of minutes.

So it is childs play to take, share, send, receive and print pictures by the truckload.

I remember the critics were all doom and gloom when digital cameras started having an impact. I wonder where they are now.

So if this isn't a golden age for photography then I'm pretty sure it must run a close second!

The photo was taken at about 6:30 pm in late March. Camera: Sony H1 Settings: 1/100s, f4.0, ISO64, focal length 33 mm, 0 ev
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Thursday, March 30, 2006

Golden Glow

Like the famous photographer Ken Rockwell I'm a big fan of filters. A good filter can really add some snap and punch to a photo. The trick with filters is knowing which ones to use and when.

Lately I have bought some new ones for use in situations like the one below. It was a really beautiful day here today in Dunedin. Autumn has arrived but it was still warm and sunny enough to remind me of our recent summer.

I typically use a Circular Polarizer and/or a UV Haze filter when outdoors because of New Zealands very strong sunlight. The only downside is that they can sometimes make a scene look cold when the desired effect is a nice warm glow.

This evening I started out using an 81A warming filter but the effect wasn't strong enough. The light was quickley disappearing and I wanted to accentuate the dominate colour of the sunset. I then tried a Cokin graduated tobacco T1. Perfect.

Someone asked me today why use filters at all. Why not just use computer software? A fair question in this technological age.

Its all about the light. Basically a good filter, used appropriately, allows you to capture the light you want at the time of the exposure. That reason alone means filters are an essential part of the photographers equipment. Oh, and they also save time later on in front of the computer. Post processing dozens of pictures can become a chore otherwise!

Although we may use a digital camera it is still important to know how to take a well exposed photograph just like in the days of film. Filters can aid that process by balancing the amount of light we need. Remember the camera has a limited dynamic range of about 5 stops so photography is still about artistry not technology.

The photo was taken at about 6:30 pm in late March. Camera: Sony F828 Settings: 0.6s, f8.0, ISO64, focal length 40mm, 0 ev
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Monday, March 27, 2006

Grassy Knoll

Over the weekend I spent some time at St Kilda Beach. This isn't normal so let me explain why.

It's funny, but I seem to spend a lot of time photographing various parts of Dunedin and the Otago peninsula and hardly any time at all of the beach which is closest to my home. Is it a case of familiarity? No, not really. St Kilda Beach is a very lovely place. When I was growing up I spent a lot of time here while visiting my grandparents.

The beach is on Dunedin's doorstep. It is frequented by city folk walking their dogs or jogging or surfing. It's a good place to come and unwind. There is nothing wrong with the beach itself. Maybe it has become too popular? No, that's not the reason either.

The real reason I haven't spent much time taking photos here is that from a photographers point of view it always seems to be too hazy. Check out "Dark and Moody" and you'll know what I mean.

Today however the weather was mild and sunny and for once the southern end of the beach at St Clair wasn't hazy. Sometimes as a photographer you have to wait and revisit the same location again and again until the right weather or light comes along. Today was such a day. So, no more excuses from me then!

The photo was taken at about 7:40 pm in mid February. Camera: Sony H1 Settings: 1/320s, f5.6, ISO100, focal length 20mm, 0 ev Posted by Picasa

Scenic St Kilda

Scenic St Kilda , a place to unwind from all the daily grind.

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Saturday, March 25, 2006

Dark And Moody

Normally I don't like haze in a photo unless it adds something to the scene. The photo below is an example of when haze is OK because it creates a very moody and evocative setting.

What makes the haze interesting is the light from the setting sun is adding an amazing, ethereal glow to the sea spray. So the photo is a combination of good light, interesting weather and of course good timing.

It is always a good idea to try and convey emotion in a photo as well as good colour and light so try to take advantage of this type of landscape setting.

Unfortunately this scene didn't last very long otherwise I would have moved to a better location and taken some more shots of the beach in the distance with the telephoto lens of the camera to accentuate the depth of field.

Incidentally I was using the Sony H1, a 5 Megapixel camera which features a very good lens and colour sensor. Sony is introducing an upgraded model in June which is eagerly anticipated.

If you are interested in buying a good quality digital camera then the Sony H series is hard to beat.

This photo was taken at St Kilda Beach near my home in Dunedin.

The photo was taken at about 7:40 pm in mid February. Camera: Sony H1 Settings: 1/320s, f5.6, ISO100, focal length 20mm, 0 ev

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Plying Her Trade

The old steamship Earnslaw sets out once again to cross Lake Wakatipu between Queenstown and Walter Peak Station.

She is almost 100 years old and uses the same type of engine that once powered the Titanic. I guess there was nothing wrong with the Titanics engines after all!

One of the amusing things her skipper told us is that her anchor is basically ornamental. The lake is far too deep for it to be useful. Lake Wakatipu is New Zealands deepest lake.

He also recalled the anchor had been of use in only 10 occasions during Earnslaws long service - most of those during surveys!

Incredibly her coal fired steam engines are still fed by hand. She is still capable of high speed too.

I really like the depth of field and light in this picture which was taken in the morning from the steamer wharf in Queenstown. Once again the Sony H1 exceeded my expectations. The more I use it the more appreciative I become of its versatility.

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Simply Breathtaking

Queenstown. Simply breathtaking. Imagine waking up to this view every morning.

We came to Queenstown for the weekend in early March and stayed at a house on the hills above Queenstown. I took this shot during a walk after breakfast.

Queenstown is a bustling little town. I don't come here very often but every time I'm struck at how much economic activity is here. There were at least a dozen new houses alone in the street where we stayed.

I guess more and more people want to live here and who can blame them when there are views like this.

The photo was taken at about 10:00 am in mid March. Camera: Sony H1 Settings: 1/400s, f3.2, ISO64, focal length 8mm, 0 ev
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Come on Over to the other side Posted by Picasa
Picture Postcard Posted by Picasa

Change Is In The Air

The passing of one season to another is an important milestone. Just ask any farmer. Life is marked by such changes but in our busyness we sometimes fail to see it coming.

In Queenstown and Arrowtown the change from Summer to Autumn is clearly marked on the leaves of each tree. It is hard to miss when green becomes a rustic yellow then gold and even dark red.

The locals say that it will be a cold winter if the leaves change colour in early March.

That is what has happened this year. So the milestones carry a meaning as well as a message.

Get ready for a cold one.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Seeing the Big Picture in Hindsight

Earlier I explained that sometimes, in fact oftentimes, a photographer sees things differently to way his camera records events. The good thing about using digital cameras is that we can easily revise the picture to the way it was perceived at the time. Technology provides the photographer with a wonderful asset - hindsight.

All I have done to the original photo is increase the highlights and shadows and crop most of the sky from the frame. My objective was to give the picture better depth and more accurately portray the colour of the field to the way I remember it. A pleasing side effect of this post processing has been the way the photo has much more visible detail and a greater feeling of space.

In the digital darkroom this is one the easiest techniques to use but it often makes all the difference.

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Seeing the Big Picture

The previous post described why only a panorama photo can capture the really wide angle views best. Unfortunately even the very best wide angle lens cannot capture in a single picture what the human eye can see at a glance so we must employ special software and bit of ingenuity to do so.

The example below is one of the photos used to create "Fresh Fields and Fresh Discoveries". As you can see it doesn't make a particularly memorable photo on its own. Its only when 2, 3 or more pictures are merged together that the scale of a vista like this can be fully appreciated.

Incidentally this picture is pretty much the way it was recorded by the camera as I wanted to illustrate the fact that what a photographer sees isn't always what the camera records.

The way I remember this shot is that I liked the way the light from the sun was creeping across the undulating hills as the clouds drifted overhead. The golden yellow hue of the fields, the patches of green grass and the shadows from the clouds are in my mind what gives the photo its essence.

So next time before you take a photo of that special place think of the big picture first and try to capture what you see and not what the camera sees.

The photo was taken at about 6:00 pm in mid January. Camera: Sony F828 Settings: 1/250s, f4.0, ISO64, focal length 42mm, 0 ev
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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Fresh Fields and Fresh Discoveries

One Sunday afternoon we went out for a drive inland from Dunedin. For a while I felt like I had been neglecting an important part of Otagos landscape for this blog. Fortunately we came across this vista on the way home.

It really is the perfect subject for a panorama photo because it literally goes on for miles. I have actually cropped this shot because I'm still working on the original file and its very large.

For the benefit overseas viewers this is a sample of what inland farm country in southern New Zealand looks like. Behind the camera is what I call the hinterland which is very dry, alpine style terrain. Mountains, schist rocks and tussock characterise central Otago.

Over the hills in front lies coastal Otago which you will already be familiar with. The land in this picture sits in between these two types of terrain. This means Otago has a great variety of landscapes within easy driving distance.

This may also explain why I like to get outdoors because I am constantly finding something new just around the corner. I think I could quite easily spend hours just in this one location capturing the way the sunlight and shadow undulates over these hills.

By the way it must be good location because I recently saw this same view on display in a gallery by a local photographer. I'll have to come back here when the snow arrives in the winter. Now that would be something worth seeing.

The photo was taken at about 6:00 pm in mid January. Camera: Sony F828 Settings: 1/250s, f4.0, ISO64, focal length 42mm, 0 ev
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Sunday, March 05, 2006

Sometimes Its Not Pretty

I get a lot of feedback about how beautiful the beaches are here. While that is true it would be fair to say we also get our fair share of storms. Below is one of those times when a 'southerly', as Dunedites like to call them, arrives in force.

By way of example let me illustrate what the weather can be like here sometimes. Crowded House wrote a song called 'Four Seasons In One Day' and the weather often lives upto that title because Dunedin is situated in the 'roaring forties'.

However most photographers still like taking pictures when the weather is bad. This is because the sky looks more dramatic than when it is blue and sunny. This picture of St Kilda beach was taken in mid summer but it could just as easily be wintertime.

So sometimes the weather isn't pretty but it can still set the scene for an impressive photo.

The photo was taken at about 6:00 pm in early January. Camera: Sony H1 Settings: 1/640s, f4.0, ISO64, focal length 38mm Posted by Picasa

Friday, March 03, 2006

Trying Something New

One of the reasons I started this blog last year was to reach a wider audience.

Creating the blog was a straightforward task so my objective was quickley met. makes the whole process very easy... Just about anyone can do it these days.

Along the way I have had very good and positive feedback from folks all over the planet which just goes to show it was all worthwhile.

However one thing I didn't anticipate was the amount of effort needed to maintain interest as well as come up with fresh content. I have plenty of photos to share but not all of them suit the main theme of this blog.

Getting peoples attention is one thing. I also needed a way of creating and adding fresh content so regular viewers would return for more. So my original objective still needed some attention.

Fortunately technology is up to the challenge and it is a breeze to add new channels of content into a website like this.

So from now on there are new links to try and a new continuous slideshow which will contain a much larger assortment of photos for viewing and sharing.

Down the left hand side are links to other web blogs as before. Plus there are links to other web based communities where people can easily share their ideas, thoughts, and of course pictures.

It never hurts to try something new. I hope you enjoy the experience.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Feedback From A Fan

Today, completely out of the blue, I received a heartwarming comment from a fan in the far North of New Zealand.

I am humbled and flattered but mostly amazed that complete strangers take an abiding interest in my work.

To all of you out there a big thank you is in order and I hope that what I do will encourage you all to pursue something equally worthwhile.

I have to be honest though and say that taking photos of beautiful New Zealand is probably the easiest assignment any photographer could have!

Anyways I thought that it would be nice for Chana's comments to receive a better forum on this blog.

Here are Chana's comments and my reply:

Hi Stephen,

Thank you for this special place you have created here online, for us all to enjoy.

Let me say, I only discovered your blog site about a month ago, purely by accident, from over on the trademe website. I have during that time [ up until now that is ] been quite happy to enjoy your photograph's as a quiet visitor & observer.

Truly, you have a magical place here, insomuch, that you have been able to capture the essence and magnificence of this beautiful country New Zealand in all her splendor and glory.

I would like you to know that I am inspired by your site and your stunning photographs, in that I feel a gentle nudge to create and do something similar.

Though I am only a budding amateur in the field of photography, and, in no way a professional, and, a person who owns a rather inexpensive kodak digital. I am nontheless undeterred, but rather enthusiatic.

Again, thank you for your works, the inspiration, and, the Rainbow photo's are in a word, breathtaking [ how did that happen so, not once, but, twice! ] *grin* as all your photographs are, take care.

Harmoniously, Chana H Davis

Coopers Beach - Northland NZ

Thank you for your kind words and encouragement Chana. It's always great to hear from people who have enjoyed viewing my photos.

Let me first off say that I do hope you take up photography. I think you will find it very rewarding.

I have never been to Northland but I'm sure it is just as beautiful as Dunedin and just as suitable for outdoor photography.

Digital cameras are improving all the time and are mostly easy to use. I use 2 cameras - both Sonys, but I have found learning how to take a good photo really comes with practice and even sometimes a bit of old fashioned good luck.

The good thing about being a photographer is that it can change the way we see the mundane and ordinary things around us. It is also an opportunity to get out and about more and explore this land. New Zealand is a special place and I think we Kiwis take it for granted . From the feedback I have had from overseas visitors they all send glowing reports back home about New Zealand.

It's a funny thing but I've found it's not until you take a photo that people actually start to appreciate their surroundings. Hence why I take so many landscapes of beaches around Dunedin.

I started this blog as a way to share my photos with a wider audience. So far, I'm gald to say, that it's all been for the good.

Finally if you do decide to take up photography I can recommend a number of websites for sharing pictures.

The first one is which has a very cool slideshow feature.

The second is which has a very nice downloadable desktop calendar and photo program. And of course you can easily start a blog at Googles or somewhere else.

All of the above are free.