Gauntlet Challenge…. Make Runcorn Look Great!!!!

Large Format Prints Transform Runcorn Office

“We’ve got an office in Runcorn for you to shoot… and can you get some shots of the area and create some large format prints to put up in the main entrance area too….”

Gauntlet firmly thrown down, over to Runcorn on a (rare) sunny day and nailed the building shots – taken from all angles, every roof space, across the road, you name it… HDR’d the lot, those shots are busily selling the office space in brochures now.

So off to Runcorn… there’s not a lot there other than the bridge, and a few trolleys in the Mersey…

A look around and found a decent church, old castle, water tower, mural and few other bits and bobs. Captured about 100 shots in total – again all HDR.

Client got the blended HDR previews the same day, chose and delivered the brochure shots the next day and left them to pick from the Runcorn shots…

And yesterday we installed them – love these end-to-end projects. You get to see their reaction when you take the bubble wrap off, they picked them and will spend the next few years looking at them after all ­čÖé

Here’s a few shots from the install.

Twisted Theatre Photography in Leeds…

Theatre Rehearsal Photography in Leeds….

Destination Holbeck…

Driving around Holbeck (Leeds) slowly caused a few long, suspicious looks… ┬áparts used to be the red light district and it’s not improved much in the last few years.

The road I was after didn’t seem to have a name on it… there were just lock ups and arches with mechanics tinkering away.

Eventually caving in and asking directions, I find myself outside the venue after all, it just doesn’t look like I expected – HUB it’s called, Holbeck Urban Ballroom I think.

The job was to get some shots of rehearsals for Chelle and Katie, who run production company┬áTwisted Avenue” – so went in armed with the strobist kit and camera, not knowing what to expect.

Aladdin’s Cave

A labyrinthine array of tunnels – with fat, soft sofas, a piano, speakers, costumes, trinkets and a strange little┬áchandelier. Very odd. I like it.

So to the play rehearsals… quick look around the room ┬á– white walls, black drapes around the┬áceiling, speakers and pipes on the walls, heater on (in the summer – it was boiling!!!), actors in their civvies with the scripts in hand and a few people watching. So it’s just a case of set up and do what the hell you like really – my kinda job; fly on the wall… the decisive moment…. unposed…. candid….

So set the lights up in a few positions through the night, used about every lens in the bag, all pretty much wide open to blur away the muddled backgrounds – mixed lighting temperatures giving nice blue rim lighting from one angle, edgy cool faces from another…

Don’t stop for me folks…. ­čÖé

At first you’ve no idea what they’re doing, talking about or where they’re going to look – just as you’re about to get the shot and arm gets in the way, a head turns, a laugh breaks the moment…

Then you get the jist – you know how the action unfolds as the hone their lines. Get into position for Ellen’s crazed Italian Mama character, quickly move to get Tom and Simon’s scene – change the lights around for Susan’s bits as she’s always looking stage left….

Sorted – 345 shots in the bag, lots of colour/contrast/clarity in lightroom – job done!

Cyclic Photography

Round and Round

Surely even steak gets a bit dull if you have it every day for a year?

I certainly found that with Photography, looking back over the last few years you see the gradual transition from a landcape to a people bias.

Though on the way, there have been regular patterns which stand out. Locations which demand re-visits. Though each cycle, things have changed. You have changed. Your tools may have changed and certainly the software you use will have changed.

Humble Beginnings

I found myself touring around Yorkshire with just a camera and lens when I started – discovered some great places, never really got too many noteworthy shots, but it was a start.

Dark and Moody

The second cycle was after discovering Filters and using those to make water blurry and skies dark and moody.

Techno Blitz!

The third was when HDR came along, though I quickly realised that it never really got landscapes how you’d want them… so that was a shorter cycle!

Flashing and people

Now I’m talking people, cars and models to these locations and using flash to create something new; different to the landscapes of old… in fact, I used to wait for people to leave a scene before hitting the shutter… now I put people IN there!

It’s a spiral, starting small and building up – each layer founded on the one before, the knowledge of an abandoned passion key to the new inspiration.

The ability and vision to create the look you desire is based on every scene you have ever shot, every smile you’ve ever captured, every building you’ve ever wondered at.

So when you’re going round in circles, seemingly getting nowhere, in that rut where you can’t see out, just remember that what you’re learning will pay off eventually ­čÖé

Landscape Interview….

Just been asked to do a piece for Ephotozine, on Landscape Photography. Thought it worth sharing on here with you all.

It’s just 3 questions, with my ramblings on each.

How did you get into landscape photography?

I’m from the countryside originally, rural Lancashire by Pendle Hill, so was always at home there.

When affordable digital came along around 10 years, and petrol was cheap, I used to spend most weekends in the car pottering around the dales and north York moors, places I’d been through but never really seen. Spending time on my own meant I could stop where ever I wanted, for however long I needed.

I started to work out what I enjoyed most, mainly waterfalls and rivers back then.

Also, city shooting all seemed a bit daunting back then – I didn’t really know what I was doing and people would be annoying, so getting away from it all in a field or on a hill was far more relaxing.

We’re lucky up here in yorks/lancs, lots of variety in landscape and coast line within one hour – from rolling dales to barren limestone pavements/


Talk us through how you set up and take a shot?

Around 2006 I found a formula which produced repeatable results – using a polariser, ND grad filters, cable release, tripod and anglefinder to get low down and create images with ultra-wide angled lenses (typically 17mm on full frame).

Most of the landscapes I’ve sold and have appeared in magazines follow the formula – and I’m sure many landscape photographers on Ephotozine do too.

I tend to look for something in the near ground as foreground interest, preferably with some kind of lead into the shot – a line in the sand, a rocky crevice, a road marking or just a rock and stick. Water does the trick too of course.

Then in the background, I’m after something as the focal point. Too often it’s a tree…. though in the lakes, the mountains themselves are interesting enough.

you’d shoot that at f16, focussing 1/3 way into the shot, so you’d get everything sharp and a longish shutter to blur motion.

Of course, only shooting at sunset to get the magic, warm toned light.

Now, a few years on, I’m less formulaic really – I’ve shot many landscapes with a 500mm F4.5 L lens, even had an EC with one! It’s more about reading the conditons and choosing the right kind of shot. If it’s a poor sky, then I’d use a long lens to find something interesting without the sky. I like long shadows, so look for those in photos – sometimes driving up a hill and looking down below gets you some really cool long shadows of trees.

What draws you to the photos you take?

Landscape is fun rather than work – so it tends to be done when I get spare time, or feel the urge to get out there. It’s often stop-offs on the way to places these days, maybe taking a longer route and setting off earlier to call into old haunts.

I still love water, wiers always look great, though when the light gets really low, you can end up with a silhouette and white water if you’re not careful… enter HDR!

What looks good to the eye often doesn’t look great on camera – I’ve had mates take me to these really wide exposed areas, bigging them up, only to find that there’s no photo there. It’s got the “wow that’s a huge open vista” appeal, but there’s nothing really discernible to shoot… Joe Cornish has his Roseberry Topping in every shot so he has that point of interest.

I’ve often used Drax/Eggborough/Ferrybridge power stations on the M62 for this. They’re huge, the biggest in Europe, so can be seen for miles around.

I think you need something to interest the eye, certainly intitally anyway, then they can have a wander around the shot.

So something with presence draws me, though not always the obvious tree or boulder!

HDR Batch Battle – Photomatix V Oloneo

What is HDR….

Love it or hate it, or have no idea what it is, HDR is a great solution to difficult exposure conditions, where the bright and dark areas of the shot are so contrasting, your camera just can’t capture it all in one shot. So we take a few shots at different exposures (brightness), often 3 shots, then “blend” them using software.


Blending one set by one is time consuming – so many programs have now embraced “batch processing”. You tell the program process your “sets” of photos, producing blended photos whilst you have a well earned coffee… which is a good thing!

You need to give the program some “settings” to work with – these usually come in the form of “presets”, which are “out of the box” or which you create yourself – usually using one of the shots from the shoot.

Then you apply your new preset to the rest of the HDR photos. This is really where the magic happens – if you get the preset right, then the batch will look good – and vice versa of course!


Photomatix 4.2

This is arguably the industry standard, most McFade HDR shots will have used this since 2007 when it first started to become popular.

This has an extremely comprehensive Batch engine – allowing all manor of options. We’ve taught this to many people and its transformed their workflow.

Oloneo Photo Engine

This software is a newer player, many people using the BETA test version got hooked by its quick, intuitive interface. Since BETA it has matured into a fine piece of sofware, and importantly for the busy professional, it has batch processing.

Like Photomatix, you feed it a folder name, some settings (a preset you have created – or one that comes “out of the box”) and it pumps out the blended shots.


So we’ve run the batch on a set from Harrogate in North Yorkshire, 315 frames blended into 105 images.

In both cases, one image was blended to look as natural as possible, then the settings saved away. Then Batch fired up and those setting applied across the 315 files

So here is the pump house.

The sun was bursting through the clouds, so the stone was lit nicely yet teh cloud in the background remained dramatic.

The first one is Oloneo, which is significantly darker, obviously entirely due to the preset used. The car on the left is more pronounced than the Photomatix version.


Photomatix 4.2

The Royal Hall

Again we see 2 reasonably naturally processed images – the sky is a bit more dramatic on Oloneo. The mid-tones are again brighter on Photomatix, down to the preset.


Photomatix 4.2

Prince Albert Row

Here’s a tricky one – shooting into the bright sky, with a darker are under the arcade. The dynamic range is pretty high.

Oloneo seems to have held detail in far more areas, the sky & the glass roof have more interest. Conversely, the arcade looks brighter and more inviting in the Photomatix version.




Looking at these 3 shows that both programs do a good job in Batch Mode. The main difference seems to be the colour temp (oloneo are cooler) and highlight retention – more detail in the Oloneo shots.

This is entirely down to the preset you choose to apply – so I’d hazzard to say that this is the main factor. Can you get the right preset for each occasion?

Choosing the right photos to blend in the first place is key – pick a set which is pretty typical for the shoot and get that just right, maybe play on the safe side with White/Black clipping, and your results will improve. You can always pop the resultant blended shots into Lightroom and boost contrast.

So both seem to work well in Harrogate… just need to test Oloneo on a few future shoots.