Spitfire at Duxford

Today, The Delightful Mr F had a flight in a Tiger Moth as a birthday treat. He flew from Duxford in the UK and while he was airborne, I took this shot of a Spitfire on my Fuji X100F. I had decided to shoot in jpeg only mode for today, and all I did was set up a custom black and white pre-set in the camera.  The weather was changing rapidly and when there was this break in the clouds I had to grab the shot. I love the fact that I can set up the camera to give the look I want and trust it to capture the shot when I only have seconds to compose and press the shutter. 

What are your photographic plans for this weekend?

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Faces of Fleet #2

Following on from my first trip out to take street portraits in my town, I have been out and about once again. The people of Fleet didn't let me down, either. 

First up I met this lovely lady, Face #5 waiting for a bus. She had moved to the town a few years ago and was preparing for her 80th birthday the following weekend. All her family were coming to visit to celebrate with her. 

Face #5

Face #5

Across the road was Face #6. This gentleman was collecting for the Salvation Army. I had a wonderful chat with him about my grandfather who was also in the Salvation Army. We talked about the choir and how they would be singing in the town at Christmas, so I promised I would keep an eye out for them. He then sent me down the road to his wife, who was also collecting. Again, a lovely chat ensued and portraits were taken. 

Face #6

Face #6

Face #7

Face #7

Finally I spotted a man having a break from work in the sunshine. I approached and explained my project and told him that I would like to take his portrait. He was immediately enthusiastic and suggest that I go over to his shop and shoot there. It turned out he works at the local barber's shop, so in I went and took many photos of the barbers and customers. I asked if I could come back and do some more, so I have held those photos back until I have taken some more so I can release them as a batch. 

I think I am over my fear of asking strangers for portraits now. My hands have at least stopped shaking, which is a bonus if you want clear photos!

If you live in Fleet, I hope to see you soon!

Where I Step Right Outside My Comfort Zone - Faces of Fleet #1

Sometimes it is good to do something a little bit different. It stretches the creative muscles and can give you a new way of seeing the world. I am a big fan of the Humans of New York project, where photographer Brandon Stanton set out to take street portraits of 10,000 people living and working in New York. He chats to each person and gets their story before taking their photograph. The results are gorgeous, human, joyful, touching and a reminder of reality. 

I will admit it straight off, I am not a natural portrait photographer, but I had been itching for a while to document my home town in some way. This seemed like a good way of capturing the people who live in the area. I mulled this over for several weeks. The idea excited me, but the thought of walking up to complete strangers and being able to make enough of a connection that they would let me take their portrait terrified the living daylights of me. I am not sure what happened, but one Wednesday afternoon, shortly after lunch I was overcome by a strange sense of recklessness/courage and headed out armed with my Fuji XT1. It takes about 15 minutes to walk to the town centre from Fennell Towers and by the time I had reached the high street my bravado and ebbed somewhat. I then spent the next 45 minutes walking up and down trying to muster enough courage to speak to someone.  

Finally I found Faces #1 and #2 sat on a bench outside M&S. They looked friendly, and kind, so I reasoned, even if they said no, they weren't likely to punch me in the face. They didn't say no! They looked slightly shocked that I had asked, but were up for it. They were lovely, and gave me much needed confidence to go ahead and ask other people. I don't know who you are, but thank you!

Face #1

Face #1

Face #2

Face #2

Emboldened, I headed off to find more friendly looking residents of Fleet. Next I chatted to Face #3, a lovely lady who sells jewellery in the shopping centre. She hand makes and mends all sorts of beautiful things. The lighting was shocking*, but I took a portrait to add to the collection. After that it was time to go home, and I was almost back at the gates of Fennell Towers when I met Face #4. This lady was delivering building materials to a house, and was driving one of those big trucks with a crane on the back**. She was rocking a powerful "This Girl Can" vibe, and I desperately wanted to take her photo. I hesitated a little bit as she was working, but decided to ask anyway. We had a little chat, I took the shot and then she went on her way. 

Faces of Fleet 3.jpg
Faces of Fleet 4.jpg

I got home feeling pretty good. I had overcome my major fear of taking street portraits, and as an added bonus I had had some lovely conversations with people I would never have met otherwise. Some people said no, fewer than I would have thought, and that was nice it it's own way too. People had the choice, and even when they declined they were nice about it and we had a chat anyway. All in all it was a great experience. I am going to continue to take street portraits, and add them to the gallery on this site. I hope to build up a collection of portraits which represent Fleet and the people that live here. 

* Note to self, lighting in shopping centres is horrible...

** It probably has a proper name, does anyone know?

Where I Show You My Holiday Snaps

The Delightful Mr F and I have been on our holidays. We went to the West Country, an area of the UK in the, well western part of the country. The weather was typically British. There was rain, and wind, glorious sunshine and dull clouds, sometimes all within the space of an hour. This, however, did not stop us from venturing out in search of photoghraphic opportunities (and ice-cream). 

I had packed all my cameras and lenses. I was planning on taking a minimal kit, but then I ran out of time for packing decisions, and just chucked both my kit bags and a tripod in the boot of the car to save time and angst. In the end I shot mostly on my Fuji X100F with the occasional shot with my Fuji X70. I also shot the Olympus Trip 35, but that is for another post. 

With the weather being so unpredictable we got some great moody skies.

Clevedon Pier, Fuji X100F

Clevedon Pier, Fuji X100F

Clevedon, Fuji X100F

Clevedon, Fuji X100F

Swans, Torquay, Fuji X70

Swans, Torquay, Fuji X70

We spent a day in Weston-Super-Mare, and had glorious weather. I have been experimenting with the in camera settings in my Fuji X100F to see what type of effects I can create and how to control them. I love the Fuji film simulations, and I have come to realise that I much prefer controlling things in camera if I can. That isn't to say that I don't have a dabble in Lightroom when required. The next set of shots are all straight out of the camera, with settings adapted for the light. For example, highlights, shadows, colour, noise reduction etc. When I posted these on social media I was asked about settings. I have quite a lengthy blog post in development on this topic, so if you are interested, I hope to have it published in the next week or two.  

Weston-Super-Mare, UK, Fuji X00F

Weston-Super-Mare, UK, Fuji X00F

Weston-Super-Mare, UK, Fuji X00F

Weston-Super-Mare, UK, Fuji X00F

Weston-Super-Mare, UK, Fuji X00F

Weston-Super-Mare, UK, Fuji X00F

The results from the Fuji X100F are quite staggering, I mean look at the gorgeous blue in the shot above. No lightroom, no filters, just adapting the in camera settings. I get so much joy from using them and isn't that the point?

So, how did your holiday snaps turn out?

Where it All Began...

Imagine, if you will, a 19 year old Chemical Engineering student called Helen who heads to Scotland in the mid 1990s, for an industrial placement. There she meets an industrial chemist,   who had a camera, a Fujica STX-1N, which he showed Helen how to use. And that, dear Readers, is how I met my lovey husband, The Delightful Mr F,  and learned photography. 

Being a student I didn't have much in the way of ready cash, and so it wasn't until I had my first pay packet from my first proper job that I could buy a camera of my own. The Delightful Mr F and I hotfooted it to a camera shop in Guildford where I bought a Nikon FM2 with a 50mm lens. For about 20 years, this was all I used. 

Nikon FM2

Nikon FM2

Nikon FM2

Nikon FM2

For those of you who are too young to remember much before the internet, and all things digital, this is a film camera, totally manual, no autofocus, limited centre-weighted metering and a battery that lasted me about 15 years before I had to change it.* For many years I only had one lens, a 50mm f1.8, which is still my favourite lens. I later bought a 28mm f2, but didn't use it a great deal.  I shot hundreds of rolls of film, and still, even now naturally gravitate to a 50mm field of view. 

Nikon FM2 top plate

Nikon FM2 top plate

The top plate is very simple. on one side you have the shutter speed/ISO dial, film wind on (with multiple exposure), a little window which tells you which frame you are on, and the shutter release button. On the other, the film rewind handle. That's your lot. 

Nikon FM2 top plate

Nikon FM2 top plate

The FM2 is built like a tank, no flimsy plastic casing here. I have dropped it multiple times, taken it out in the rain and wind,  and it has quite a bad dent on one side from a nasty collision with a patio, but it marches on, image quality unimpaired. It is a joy to use. There is a very satisfying shutter release sound and the manual focus lens is smooth and accurate. If you are used to the multipoint metering of modern digital cameras, then the simple metering of an old film camera like the FM2 will be a little bit of a learning curve, but it really teaches you about light.  In addition, the battery only powers the light meter, so if your battery runs out, the camera is still useable. 

These cameras were made between 1982 and 2001, so there are loads of them around. They are known for being really hard wearing, so even if you find one that looks a bit beaten up, it is quite likely it will still work. The range of lenses available is massive, and they are all high quality and dirt cheap, so if you fancy a try with a film SLR, this would be a great camera to start with. 

This camera still comes out with me, and I shoot mainly Ilford HP5 on it, and the odd roll of colour film. I'll scan some shots soon and share them here. I love all the tech of my Fuji cameras, but this one taught me photography. I learned how to compose, to understand light and exposure and how to develop film. Most importantly though, with my FM2 in hand, I discovered my passion for making photographs. My Fuji cameras will be upgraded as and when, but this one, my beloved FM2 will always be in my camera bag. 

Do you have a nostalgia for your first camera? What was it?

 

*No carrying multiple spare batteries in those days, but you did have to carry film...

Mastering Street Photography by Brian Lloyd Duckett

Mastering Street Photography by Brian Lloyd Duckett

Mastering Street Photography by Brian Lloyd Duckett

Street photography and I have a love hate relationship. When I see a brilliantly executed street photograph I am in awe, but much of what I see just makes me angry... or worse, bored.  I am not sure when the trend started, but much of what I see produced under the banner of street photography are candid shots, taken on the street, of people not really doing very much at all. The light is often dull and the subject is not terribly interesting and I am left wondering what the point is. Don't get me started on photographing the homeless, or people in distress, that is just voyeuristic. Just because you manage to take  photo of someone without their knowledge does not make it a good shot. I was glad to read the same sentiment in the introduction of this fantastic book on street photography. As Lloyd Duckett points out "Do you really want to look at a picture of someone's uncle coming out of a hardware store? Is it interesting? Is it art?"

 I am not sure when the trend started, but much of what I see produced under the banner of street photography are candid shots, taken on the street of people not really doing very much at all. The light is often dull and the subject is not terribly interesting and I am left wondering what the point is.

So what else does this book have to offer, other than a huge dollop of common sense on the first page? Well, firstly there is that front cover. What a wonderful shot! That dog looks like it has just realised the futility of life and is none too pleased about it. The book starts off with a short history of street photography, recalling Cartier-Bresson and Louis-Jacques-Mande, as well as highlighting some contemporary photographers such as Martin Parr. 

Chapter one covers equipment. Focal length, compact cameras, DSLR, CSC, film or digital? There is no bias here, pros and cons of each are evaluated, and the reader left to decide what would suit them the best. The next chapter follows up with advice on the technical front, with the aim to get the exposure right in camera, using post processing only in an emergency. The basics of aperture, ISO and shutter speed are covered with their application specifically to shooting on the street.  Focus is also explained, and in particular zone focusing, something which I rely on when doing my own street photography. 

There is a great section on composition, which is what I think many street photographs lack. Lloyd Duckett provides examples of all sorts of different composition techniques, dealing with colour versus black and white, as well as shooting in low light. For me, this chapter and the following one titled "inspiration" were fantastic. There are lots of ideas for how to shoot different aspects of street photography, along with tips, and the most wonderful large prints of his own photographs. 

The book is also punctuated with assignments and challenges for you to try out the concepts explained in the previous chapters. The book finishes with tips on security and legal issues. 

This is a wonderfully accessible book, with bags of useful technical content and inspiration. Once you have read this book, there will be no excuse for taking dull street photographs.

Where It Doesn't Rain

I have been feeling a little off colour of late, and so haven't been out and about as much as normal. The weather this summer hasn't helped, and let's face it, has been pretty awful hasn't it? I was itching to get out with my camera again when I woke up one morning to find that it wasn't raining. Not only was it not raining, the forecast seemed to indicate it wasn't going to rain, and it might actually be sunny. Cue frantic camera battery charging. By the time I had gathered all my photographic accoutrements together, the sun was well and truly out. I was feeling in a floral mood, so headed off to see if I could photograph some horticulture.  Here are my efforts.

They are both shot in situ in the local RHS Wisely Gardens, natural light only. I used my Fuji XT-1 with the 35mm f2 WR lens. 

Astrophotography - Getting Started

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There are some truly stunning photographs of the night sky out there. I recently posted my photograph of the Milky Way on social media and was asked if I would do a blog post on how to get started with astrophotography. It is quite a long post, but wanted it to be a step by step guide. You might want to get yourself a cuppa...

First things first. You need to be aware of the limitations of the kit you have. If you have any sort of camera from a camera phone upwards you will be able to take some sort of photograph of the night sky, but if you are after NASA style photographs of galaxies and planets you are likely to be disappointed as you need some serious kit, including a telescope with a tracking mount and a specialist CCD camera. This post is intended to get you started with minimal kit as there are  still very many great shots you can get. All the astro photos you see on this blog are taken with a non-tracking tripod and my Fuji XT-1.

Astrophotography is a great hobby, it is really rewarding, as it can take some time to get the shot you want, but it is such a rush when you get a good photograph! By the way, if you are afraid of the dark, or don't like standing in ditches in the middle of the winter, in the dead of night  astrophotography probably isn't for you. 

By the way, if you are afraid of the dark, or don’t like standing in ditches in the middle of winter in the dead of night, astrophotography probably isn’t for you. 

So here is the minimum amount of kit you will need:

  • A camera which you can trigger remotely, either from an app or from a cable release (you can also use the self-timer). You need to do this to avoid the camera vibrating when you press the shutter as this will ruin your shot.
  • A sturdy tripod
  • A wide angle lens, preferably prime if you have it. Anything wider than 50mm full frame will do nicely. The faster the better. f2 or faster is ideal, but if you don't have that, use what you have.
  • A star guide or app. I like Sky Guide, but any will do. 
  • Warm clothes and a flask of a nice hot drink. Don't underestimate how darn cold you will get.

Learning the Night Sky

In the Northern Hemisphere at least, we are heading towards autumn and the nights are drawing in. If you are not familiar with the night sky, this is a great time to go outside on a clear night and start to learn to navigate around the heavens. Use your app to be able to locate various constellations. The winter sky is great for this as you will see Orion, The Plough, Cassiopeia and other well know constellations.

I can’t emphasise how important it is to understand the constellations and what you are photographing, I have seen so many beginners take a badly composed shot where they have cut the top off a constellation. Consider it similar to cutting off Great Aunt Maud’s head in a family photo.

It is really worth doing this as it will help when you are trying to compose your shots. I can't emphasise how important it is to understand the constellations and what you are photographing, I have seen so many beginners take a badly composed shot where they have cut the top off a constellation. Consider it similar to cutting off Great Aunt Maud's head in a family photo.

Light Pollution

Light pollution is a real problem for most people, but some great shots can still be had in town. If you can get yourself about 30 miles away from any town or city, you should find life a little bit easier. There are lots of online light pollution maps to help you find somewhere local, or use it as an excuse to take a holiday somewhere remote! I do most of my practise from my driveway, and we live in a town quite close to London, and have a street light right outside. I still managed to get this lovely shot of Cassiopeia and the Andromeda Galaxy (it's small!) though, so starting out in your garden is often a really good place to begin. 

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Focusing

Having set up you camera on your tripod, and framed your composition, you need to focus. This is the part many people find the most difficult. Set your camera/lens to manual focus. Focus on infinity if your lens/camera has a scale. For some old manual lenses they have a "hard stop" at infinity, others don't. If you are struggling, the easier thing to do is to focus on something far away during the day using autofocus, switch to manual focus and then tape the focus ring in place. If you can spend time practicing focusing on the stars, so much the better. Below are some massively magnified photographs of what in and out of focus stars look like. If the centre of the star appears dimmer than the outer parts, then it is out of focus.

Definitely out of focus...

Definitely out of focus...

Super close-up of a star, still out of focus though

Super close-up of a star, still out of focus though

Super close-up of a star, in focus!

Super close-up of a star, in focus!

Exposure Time

Now we need to head down a road paved with science. Are you sitting comfortably? The stars in the night sky are in a fixed position, but the earth is rotating, which makes the stars appear as if they are moving across the night sky. It is all very pretty, but the effect is that the long exposures needed to capture the very dim starlight means they start to trail. If you are after a nice long star trail, then that's fine, but often you will want pinpoint sharp stars. To calculate the exposure you can use a series of different equations, relating to the position of the stars in the night sky. To get you in the right ballpark, use the rule of 500:

Rule of 500: t = 500 / f
t = exposure time (s)
f = full frame focal length (mm)

It is likely you will need to adjust the exposure time based on the light pollution and to suit your specific camera set up. There is a lot of trial and error to begin with until you learn how you camera captures the small amounts of light in astrophotography. 

ISO, F Number and Other Settings

Choose as high an ISO on your camera that will still give you an image which is acceptable in terms of noise. This varies massively with the camera and sensor. For my Fuji XT-1 I can happily use up to an ISO of 3200, but generally shoot on 1600. 

Open your aperture as wide as it will go. Some lenses have very bad vignetting or lens aberrations which don't show up in daylight, but will make stars look like comets at the corners. If you have this problem stop down 1 or 2 stops as that normally helps.

I tend to leave White Balance on auto. I also leave Noise Reduction on. For long exposures, most cameras will take the photograph, and then take a second shot, but this time without exposing the sensor to the light. The camera can then identify any noise being generated by the camera itself. This is known as a dark frame, and the camera then subtracts the dark frame from the light frame, removing some of the noise. It's clever stuff, and you can do this outside the camera in specialist software if you wish. 

Post Processing & Advanced Techniques

You are likely to need to post process your image, I use Lightroom. There are number of post processing and advanced techniques to reduce noise and really bring out the subjects, but that's for another blog post. For now, import your image and have a play with the exposure and contrast which will help a lot. 

What to Photograph

Here are a few ideas to get you going:

  • Orion is particularly good as it is easy to spot
  • Cassiopeia - If you capture Cassiopeia, you may well also get the Andromeda Galaxy. You won't be able to see it with the naked eye, but it will show up in your photographs. 
  • The Moon - The moon is great to photograph. Pop a telephoto lens on your camera and away you go. You will need a faster shutter speed as the moon is really bright compared to everything else. I normally start at 1/60sec.
  • General starscapes - If you have a nice landscape you enjoy shooting in the day, try it at night and see if you can fill the sky with stars. 

If you do have a go at shooting the night sky, I'd love to see your photographs. Tag me on instagram (@helenfennellphotohgraphy) and use the hashtag #astrophotojoy. Happy shooting and may your nights be forever cloudless!

Where I Stand About In The Dark Again

I do like a spot of astrophotography, but the British weather, and the local light pollution do not make this easy. I have wanted to get a decent shot of the Milky Way for a couple of years, but have never managed to get the right set of climactic conditions... until a few weeks ago. Despite it being summer (although you would never know it with the weather recently), The Delightful Mr F provided hot chocolate whilst we stood in the dark and I did battle with the light pollution in our area. I am really pleased with this shot, I hope to go to some proper dark sites at some point, but as a start, I don't think I did too badly. 

For those who like the technical detail, this was taken on a Fuji XT-1, 18mm f2, ISO 800, 2 mins 40 sec exposure time. If you fancy getting started with Astrophotography, then pop back tomorrow when there will be a blog post on that very topic. 

Milkyway Final.jpg

Where I Become Soggy, Bedraggled and Windswept in London

I try to take photos every day, I am a great believer in practise makes perfect. I do also try to set aside some time every week to go out specifically to take photographs. For these trips I normally plan where I want to go and the shots I would like to get. A few weeks ago I set off to London to get my last trip in before much of Waterloo Station is closed for the duration of August. I won't be returning to London until September, even if they are giving out free ice-cream at the station*. 

I had planned, armed with my Fuji X100F, to go and shoot around Covent Garden, and then amble along the South Bank, perhaps with a creative recharge stop involving a nice piece of chocolate cake and cuppa. Having made it up to the Big Smoke it became clear very quickly that the weather was going be against me. It was blowing a gale and looked as though it was going to pour with rain. Often bad weather can give you some great shots, with stormy skies and ominous clouds. Not that day though. It was horrible. Flat grey skies and dull light was not showing London at its best. There was nothing for it, I needed a Plan B. I keep a notebook full of ideas and places to visit which I carry everywhere with me. As the rain started I sheltered under an awning close to the Tate Modern and decided indoor locations were the order of the day. 

Even in bad weather I will walk rather than take The Tube, so despite becoming increasingly soggy and bedraggled I headed off to the Tate Britain. The artwork here is fantastic, but so is the building. I wanted to see the current Tate commission, Forms in Space…by Light (in Time) by Cerith Wyn. The installation is made up of several kilometres of fluorescent tubing. If you can get along to see it, it is well worth it. 

It is a wonderful piece of work, being three dimensional it changes as you walk through it and around it. Photographing it, however, is another matter. You can either expose for the room as a whole and the impact of the shapes is lost, or expose for the tubing and loose all the background detail. I went for the latter. It makes a rather nice abstract photograph don't you think?

Forms in Space…by Light (in Time) by Cerith Wyn Evans, photographed by Helen Fennell

Forms in Space…by Light (in Time) by Cerith Wyn Evans, photographed by Helen Fennell

I obviously couldn't leave the Tate Britain without photographing a staircase could I?**

The Tate Britain is an amazing location both for taking photographs and for getting inspiration, so the next time you are stuck in London with typical horrid British weather, hot foot it to Millbank and have a cultural boost. It is free too. 

The Tate Britain.

The Tate Britain.

 

* I know the closures are allowing upgrades to happen, and there probably isn't any other way, but I fear that Network Rail may have inadvertently provided their customers with a guaranteed ticket to the Seventh Circle of Hell with this plan. I know passenger numbers are lower in August, but it is the summer. It is, well might be, hot which makes people grumpy, and they are already grumpy as it is summer and they are at work and not on holiday. Not to mention all the poor baffled tourists who must be wondering what on earth is going on. 

** It is possible I am developing a bit of an obsession with staircases...

The Complete Guide to Fujifilm's X100F by Tony Phillips

Like all good photographers, I thoroughly read the manual when I buy a new camera. I would never take a new camera out of the box, put the battery and memory card in and start shooting before reading the manual. Honestly. I would never do that... no. really. Well, maybe sometimes. 

The problem I find with the manuals is that, yes, they tell you what all the buttons and dials do, but not really how they impact the photograph. 

I saw this e-book via my Facebook feed and was intrigued. Tony Philips has written a series of books on the various Fuji X-Series cameras, and it looked pretty promising in terms of enlightening me on some of the deeper aspects of my X100F. I duly parted with $29.95 and downloaded the file. 

My word, it's comprehensive. It runs to well over 500 pages, and despite the length it is very readable. Chapter 1 introduces the key features of the camera, a quick getting started chapter, if you will. As the book moves on, these features are discussed in greater and greater depth. Topics include flash, movies, drive mode options, film simulations, exposure modes and much more. The book culminates with chapters on all the options in the shooting menus, a really useful chapter on digital imaging, and one on additional resources, although after this book I am not sure what additional resources you would need. 

When I converted from film to digital, one of the things I found hardest about the transition was really understanding what all the settings were actually doing. In this book Phillips nails all of this down. He uses example photographs to explain different effects and provides tips for different aspects of shooting with the X100F.  No stone is left unturned, and let's be honest, this could be a very dry read, but it isn't. It is engaging and enlightening in equal measure. I had several "oh, I see!" moments, when I finally understood why my camera was doing the opposite of what I wanted in various lighting conditions.  These were things that weren't in the manual. I could probably have worked them out myself if I took the time to experiment enough with all the settings, but there is no need for that, this book does all of that for you. 

As a reference for you camera, I can highly recommend it.  Whilst photography is as much about creativity as it is about understanding the tech, if you can't understand what your camera is doing, then you are unlikely to be able to stretch it creatively. I have many photography books, but this has to be the best technical book I own.