It’s Grim Up North

Give me grey and day

There’s nothing more boring than a blue sky to us photographers! 

So when we got this dramatic sky all day on my last trip to the northeast, it really was a gift. 

Pinnacle Bridge, Sunderland

First off we went south to see the new bridge in Sunderland. It’s the tallest thing in town and really is pretty huge – you can easily see it from the A19 as you pass the city. 

These are all taken with the 5DIV and the 24mTS-e mark 2 with a polariser. 

Penshaw Monument

Just upstream a few miles on the Wear, the Parthenon inspired monument stands on a hill looking over the A1 and A19. 

It was a windy day, but when you walked up to the monument, it was blowing a gale! 

The best shots were these with the 24mm TS lens, vertical panoramic shots to keep everything nice and square. 

This shot is close up with a 16mm lens and 10-stop filter to get the smooth clouds. 

South Shields

As we headed north, we went to the mouth of the Tyne to get a few shots of the harbour – the south side is called South Shields. 

There is a big red lighthouse type thing on the harbourside which is pretty cool, and the view over to the North Shields Fish Quay was pretty cool with a 10-Stop filter on.

Sunset at Blyth

Not the most famous Northumberland town by a long stretch, but it’s got a couple of great beach hut terraces which always photograph well. There are also views down the coast to St Mary’s Lighthouse.

Light Painting the Huts

And to finish the day off we did a very quick bit of light painting whilst there was still texture in the sky… 


As you can see, it really is grim up north – but pretty cool to photograph!

Jaeda Sharman – Future Superstar Model!

Leafy November Shoot

This November I did a shoot with young Jaeda, a star of the future who’s not only a great model but a competition diver too! 

A portfolio shoot around our mutual hometown, Morley, hair and styling by her mum, makeup artist and skincare consultant, Michelle Sharman – who also did the art direction, helping Jeada with her poses. Dad 

We started at Dartmouth Park, where we tried to blow some leaves into the photos with a leaf blower, but they were all too wet and sticky to move off the ground! 

A couple more locations then off to a more industrial setting for the final change of clothes

Here are a few of the shots:-

Nightscapes 1 – The Art of Light Painting

NIGHTSCAPES 2018/2019 Begins!

It all started last night in Roundhay Park – our winter of light painting around Roundhay Park saw us using torches and gels to colour the world!

New for 2018 is a “Manker MK 35” torch – this claims to have a 1.4Km beam – it does shine a hell of a long way, and with its very narrow beam, its great for detail work. Think of it as a fine brush, whereas other torches are more like thicker airbrushes. 

This photo was just the MK35 torch pointing at the ground as I walked to the bandstand – you can see how narrow the line it makes is. 

I’ve been looking for a torch like this for years – hopefully, the high price tag will pay off when we go to Gordale Scar, where I hope to paint cliffs hundreds of yards away. 


NIGHTSCAPES is a course for experienced photographers, so we assume you know all the “techy” stuff – you can set ISO/SHUTTER/APERTURE, read your histogram and make changes etc. You do know how bulb mode works to get a 2-minute exposure etc. etc. 

So the technique really was all creative and torch-based. Here’s the process in a nutshell

  1. get a focus sorted
  2. compose the shot
  3. discuss the scene and what we could light
  4. work out colours – essentially we have yellow, orange, light red, dark red, purple, dark blue, lighter blue and green in the bag
  5. work out a route
  6. start the cameras and walk into the scene and do the lighting
  7. review the results – did it work? too bright? too dark? 
  8. learn from the first shot and adjust!

It’s really as simple as that – but all creative things can be boiled down to a few steps like that, a painting could be described as “1 dip brush in paint, 3move brush over canvas, 3 goto step 1” 😉

Some results

We started at the top pond in the park. 

It’s got a fountain which you can colour with your torch if the “throw” is long enough – throw is the term for how far the beam goes. On this photo, the XM35, a “long thrower” was green, and the foreground (using my 3-LED Sky Ray wider thrower) was orange. This was the first shot with 2 torches in action. 

Next to test the XM35 with a very thick red gel, one which reduces the brightness of the torch massively, I shone it at the fountains for a full 30 seconds. Considering it’s one of the most powerful throwers you can buy, it’s not massively bright, so beware when using red gels – they do need a lot of lumens! (Lumens is a measure of torch power).

Next the band stand. 

This first one had us walking around with torches pointed at the floor to create a pattern of coloured lines. Then Lee went into the bandstand with the Sky Ray at the end to light the inside, I used the purple gel and XM35 to add a bit of colour to the outside. 

A pure shot, the outside was lit at the top with the XM35 from a distance, the lower parts with the SKy Ray and yellow gel at close quarters. A little light spill in the foreground created texture in the leaves and grass. 

On the way to the water tower, we stopped for a shot of the avenue – here we split up, green sky ray to the right, red XM35 to the left – this gives a nice mix of colour as you go into the distance. 


At the water tower, we started with lots of colours to create this early shot – it’s a bit like a Pride flag!

The idea was a red interior and blue top with the XM35, then green steps and yellow ring on the “patio” at the top of the steps. It came out very jolly!


Later on I tried just the purple gel, shooting inside the water tower. This was a 4-minute exposure allowing the stars to leave little light trails if you look carefully

Simplicity is often worth trying!

Another simple shot but with the green gel instead – this time you can actually see green in the oculus at the top of the tower

And finally an RGB shot – red was from behind the camera with the XM35, green with the sky ray from 9 oclock, blue with the XM35 at 3 oclock

And finally on the way back to the cars, we found this stunning leafless tree – so I demonstrated my shadow technique. 

Do you want to join us?

All in all a fantastic night – not too cold either – lots of torch work and virtually no need to teach any camera skills, which is the purpose of this workshop series. 

We are aiming it at experienced photographers who enjoy a new challenge – and don’t mind standing in fields, in the dark, in winter!

It’s amazing fun and well worth the effort.


Mavic Air – HDR Panoramics

Getting used to a noisy sensor again!

Drones have tiny noisy sensors compared to your DSLR – if you’re used to brightening up shadows on an underexposed shot with your camera, you’ll be shocked how bad this is on a drone RAW file. 

So what can you do?

Bracketing and HDR is the answer. 

Bracket photos for HDR is rarely needed with modern camera sensors, but it’s back with DRONE photography. With the DJI Mavic Air I use, you have the option of taking 3 or 5 photos, each 1-stop apart, to capture a larger range. 

Yesterday I went onto Marsden Moor to test this out, having struggled with skies and dark land for the 2 months I’ve had the Mavic. 

The Mavic Air Panoramic Process and Settings

In the app, you need to know your way around the camera settings to find:-

  1. Manual exposure – so all the brackets are the same exposure – remember you’re doing a panoramic so you’ll be taking 2+ brackets.
  2. Set the exposure to 0EV if you know how – so you change the shutter speed/ISO till the little light meter says “0” 
  3. Set the camera mode to “AEB” – then select 3 or 5 – I go for 5 to be safe
  4. Get the drone into position ready to shoot. 
  5. Now rotate the camera to the upper leftmost position in the panoramic – take your bracket (it takes a few seconds to save the files to memory cards).
  6. Next, rotate the camera about 2/3 of a frame to the right to get the next shot – repeat this till you get to the top right edge. 
  7. Tilt the gimble down so you can see the bottom of the original shot at the top – this is the start of the second row of your pano (if you need rows) – now take a shot
  8. Rotate Left, taking shots as you go till you reach bottom Left of the panoramic. 

So that’s it out in the field – it takes a lot longer than the AUTO PANO modes your app may have, but you have gathered 5 times the data and you CAN get a decent sky and ground. 

Merging HDRs in Lightroom

This is where the real work happens. Whilst the latest version of Lightroom CC has “HDR Pano” blending, I’ve found this incredibly slow and you can’t queue up many panos, you have to wait for just the 1 to complete. I’ve never had the patience to let one finish it takes that long. 

So here’s the process I went through for these images:-

  1. Pull all the HDR files into a new folder – these will be the “DNG” files if you’ve shot RAW – there should be a multiple of 5 photos here (or 3 if you did brackets of 3) – so check that you’ve not missed any!
  2. Blend the first bracket of shots – so highlight a group of 5, click CTRL+H to open the HDR box. 
  3. Check the “Auto Align” box
  4. Uncheck the “Auto settings box”
  5. Check the “Create Stack” box
  6. Choose “none” for ghosting – unless you have moving objects in the scene – e.g. cars. 
  7. Click OK – the first HDR gets created! 
  8. Now choose the next bracket of 5 in your thumbnail viewer
  9. press “CTRL + SHIFT” at the same time – then hit “H”
  10. This uses the last settings you applied to a HDR to create a new blend. It does this in the background so you can do other things… 
  11. Whilst it’s blending the HDRs, you can select the next group, get them blending, then the next… I’ve had 5-6 going at the same time and it seems to work. 


Creating the HDR Panoramics

So now you’ll have a timeline with every raw file in a “stack” – so if you had 30 photos to begin with, these will be neatly stacked into 6. 

To get the pano, you just need to :-

  1. select the stacks which make up the panoramic in the thumbnail view, 
  2. press CTRL+M – this opens up the Pano box in Lightroom
  3. There are 3 blend mode options – you need either “Spherical” or “Cylinder” – try both to see which works. 
  4. Check Auto Crop
  5. Check Create Stack
  6. Uncheck Auto Settings
  7. Slide the Boundary Warp control to taste – 0 = a thinner wide photo, 100 is a taller photo. 
  8. Now hit “Merge” and you get a final blend of lots of photos in 1 big stack! Phew
  9. After the first Merge, you can just re-use the settings on each pano as follows
  10. Select the next group of pano stacks
  11. Press “CTRL + SHIFT + M” – this sets the panoramic blend going without the settings box popping up. 
  12. Go through all the pano groups doing this – you can queue up many whilst Lightroom is working – I’d not go past 6 in the queue though. 

At the end of all that, your folder of dozens of component shots will have reduced to a few HDR Pano photos – now you can get on to editing them as normal!