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 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. 

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Where I Give A Photography Lesson

A couple of weeks ago, I had a lovely day out at RHS Wisley with a couple of chums who wanted to brush up on their photography skills. Caroline wanted to learn how to take better photographs of her gorgeous family, and having only used a point and shoot was starting pretty much from scratch. Kate had been using a DSLR for a while, and attended an introductory course a little while ago and felt she needed a few more pointers to get her into the photographic groove. 

I am not one to turn down a day's photography with some pals, so I happily agreed to go out with them and explain the basics. I made a little plan, and knowing Wisley well, I took them to specific places in the gardens where I knew they could practise shooting and get to grips with aperture, shutter speed and ISO.  

Being all round clever bunnies, they picked it all up very quickly. Caroline shot on my Fuji X70 as that gave her the manual control she needed, which her current point and shoot couldn't provide. Having understood the technicalities of depth of field we set off towards the herbaceous borders to see if we could spot anything worth shooting. Caroline took the lovely shot below whilst practising shooting at small and wider apertures. The colours are lovely in this. 

Flowers by Caroline Smither

Flowers by Caroline Smither

We also talked about composition and how that can be impacted by the aperture and shutter speed selected. The lovely black and white image below is another of Caroline's. 

Flowers by Caroline Smither

Flowers by Caroline Smither

We were lacking a model for portrait practise, trust me when I say it is better that I stay behind the camera, but Kate found some suitably shaped topiary!

Topiary by Kate Price

Topiary by Kate Price

Photography, is nothing, if it isn't about the control of light, and Kate took this wonderful shot of a sculpture of a dandelion clock. With the sun in just the right place it creates this gorgeous silhouette.

Dandilion Clock by Kate Price

Dandilion Clock by Kate Price

I teach and coach engineering principles and techniques on a fairly regular basis, and always enjoy passing on knowledge and experience, but this was fantastic. Photography is such a joyful, creative pursuit that teaching others how they can make the most of the kit they have and really develop up that learning curve was such a wonderful experience for me. Both Caroline and Kate have a great eye, and I fear that they may have caught the bug... Caroline was in the local camera shop the following Tuesday buying  a Lumix camera so she could have full manual control. I can only apologise to her family who will now be forever running away from a camera lens. 

Where I Have A Photography Day Out With A Chum

Last week, I had a lovely photography day out with my chum, Kate Vaisey. I met Kate on a photography course, and as it turns out, she lives but a mere stones throw from Fennell Towers. Kate has a great photographic eye, as well as being an all round good egg, so I knew it would be a good day. We decided that we would head off to RHS Wisley, armed with our cameras, spare batteries and memory cards*. I had my Fuji XT-1 with the 35mm f2 lens, my favourite combination, whilst Kate was shooting on her Canon 650D. 

Wisley is a wonderful place to take photographs, well, if you like flowers and trees that is. If you like to shoot rock bands you are likely to be disappointed. We didn't have a plan, we just wandered around and shot what took our fancy. Given how hot it was, we headed for shaded areas and practised controlling the light to get different effects. The light was very harsh, and so contrast was the order of the day.  I would like to be able to tell you definitvely what this plant is,  it is possibly a lily, not sure, but I do like how sculptural it looks with the very harsh highlights and very low shadow. 

Lily bud, Fuji XT-1, 35mm f4, 1/280s

Lily bud, Fuji XT-1, 35mm f4, 1/280s

Having spent a good half an hour shooting the shrubbery we braved the heat and headed out towards the grassy meadow areas. It. Was. Roasting. But what sort of photographers would  we be if we didn't suffer for our art? Risking severe sunburn, we practised long exposures on Kate's camera and yet more light control. 

Grasses, Fuji XT-1, 35mm f2.2, 1/4000s

Grasses, Fuji XT-1, 35mm f2.2, 1/4000s

Poppy, Fuji XT-1, 35mm, f2, 1/4000s

Poppy, Fuji XT-1, 35mm, f2, 1/4000s

I'm pleased with the shots I got, particularly the lily bud, and Kate got some stunners, particularly this one, using my 10 stop ND filter. It was also nice to have another photographer to work with and to bounce ideas off. It helps when there are two of you, as you feel less of an idiot as you contort yourself into an odd position on the ground in order to try and get a winning shot of a rhododendron.  

Has anyone else been out to Wisley to photograph the plants there?

 

*We managed to choose one of the hottest days of the year, so fortunately, K was also armed with sunblock.