Tag Archives: tutorial

Time For Atonement

OK, I’ll come straight out and admit that the title is a blatant pun, please forgive me!

Last Sunday I took a picture of a rather nice coat of arms on a lovely old Victorian bridge in Leeds. It was taken on a grey overcast morning, with little light or vibrancy about it. So when I got it to the computer, I had the urge to do some tweaking. First, here’s the original shot:

Original shot, straight out of camera
Original shot, straight out of camera

The colours were a little worn and faded. I wonder what would happen if I tried to beef them up a bit? So I used the original colour layer in my Photoshop document, duplicated it and changed the blending mode of the top layer to be 100% Soft Light instead of Normal. I often play about with duplicate layers and alternative blending modes as I find this can give some very pleasing results:

Soft Light Blending Mode
Soft Light Blending Mode

I liked this better, but still wasn’t happy. Then I had the idea of presenting the image with a more olde-worlde feel. I thought I could make it appear like an old sepia postcard which had a little bit of hand colouring applied. So I tried the Nik Silver Efex Pro “Antique Plate I” filter, which gave me the following base sepia layer:

Antique Plate sepia treatment
Antique Plate sepia treatment

This sepia layer sits between my original layer and the Soft Light version to give me the final result – which achieved exactly the effect I was aiming for:

Final Hand-Coloured effect
Final Hand-Coloured effect

This seemed to go rather well with the subject matter, and I’m pleased it worked out for Day #1161‘s image.

Nine Steps To Perfect Juggling

Several folks were intrigued as to how I had managed to get my wooden mannequin Gerald to juggle so effectively for Day #1078’s shot. Well, apart from some intensive training, here’s how it was done… (click each picture for a bigger version).

Firstly, I’ve only actually got two juggling balls! So I knew from the outset it would have to be a comp from at least two shots. It was a simple setup – one desk lamp, an infinity-curve white card, Gerald balanced holding one ball and the other hanging from some cotton above his head:

Original shot 1
1. Original shot with one ball suspended from cotton
Cloned string
2. Clone out the string above the LHS ball
Blur left
3. Copy the LHS ball and some of its background, add motion blur and mask the top part
Two balls
4. Combine these two layers so that Gerald appears to be juggling two balls with one in the air
Rhs orginal
5. Take another shot with the ball dangling on the right hand side with a complete shadow
Rhs ball layer
6. Take the RHS ball, copy to new layer on original, mask what is not needed and remember the shadow!
Rhs ball blur
7. Take a copy of this layer, add motion blur and mask out the bottom half
Rhs ball blurred
8. This combines to give blur above the RHS ball and a non-blurred shadow as required
9. Switching on all the layers shows the two balls apparently dangling in mid-air with a sense of movement in the up and down directions


It’s probably quicker to fake it (about half an hour’s work) than to actually try and teach a mannequin to juggle… 😉

How To Take… Water Splashes

I’ve often seen other people’s photos of water splashing into a surface and thought I should have a go at it myself. With the My Year In Pictures project, I’ve kept a list of subjects I should try, to give some inspiration on days when it’s not nice outdoors or I just can’t think what to take.

Today, I had a go at some macro shots of water splashes. It’s harder than it looks! You need a fast shutter speed to freeze the action, and a small aperture to give you maximum depth of field. Both of which mean you will have to use a high ISO setting and/or flood the image with light.

Some photographers use a high-speed stroboscopic flash to do the job for them – it recharges in a fraction of a second and allows several shots to be taken in one burst. But I don’t have one, so I dug out an old 1000W video lamp from the back of a cupboard and tried that:

[Setup in my kitchen – bowl of water on stripey wrapping paper; camera turned vertically on tripod on left; the 1000W video light on second tripod to the right]

[Closer view of the camera and bowl with water bottle cap just seen at the top]

I was using my Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 lens, fitted with a 12mm extension tube which allowed much closer focussing and greater magnification.

After much trial and error with the placement of the bowl, focus, position of the light and camera settings, I came up with the following as a reasonable set-up:

  • ISO speed: 500
  • Shutter speed: 1/1250th
  • Aperture: f/6.3

I had tried using 1/1000th and f/4.0 but they weren’t as sharp as I’d have liked – so I moved the light closer to the subject and got a better exposure.

The trick then is to drop a broken stream of water from the nozzle of a drinking water bottle with a sports cap. I had pre-focussed on a fork poked into the surface of the water (to get a proper focus point, otherwise you are focussed on the wrapping paper below which is no good for the splashes).

Then you have to try and aim the water drops into the same place as the fork was, whilst holding down the shutter button – I had the camera on high-speed motor drive. Take tens of shots and find the best half dozen!

[Splash! The water surface breaks up nicely when the first drops hit]

[Gravity Well – I like the way the falling stream makes a hole in the surface]

[Bubble Group – taking shots after the disturbances have died down can be equally rewarding]

The last picture here and my Pic of the Day for Day #29 show that you don’t always have to photograph the turbulence to get some good pictures – handy if you don’t have high speed motor drive.

I’ll certainly be having another go at this sort of picture, perhaps with some different backgrounds and lighting. Why not give it a shot too?

How To Take… Kids Portraits

I’m not a great proponent of formal portrait for adults, let alone kids. They rarely sit still and pose how you’d like, and I find the pictures usually end up looking stilted and a bit false. I admire photographers who can get good results from the studio, but I prefer a more candid approach.

Here are a selection of pictures I’ve taken of friends’ kiddies.

[Alexander in front of a window, natural light. His mum was behind me]

[Lizzie getting very sticky when we were out having a cake. The table was in a covered courtyard with a great skylight above]

[Alexander gets a push from Dad. Overcast day, so I got rid of as much sky as possible from the composition. At the playground can be a great place for action shots.]

[Conor & Meghan posing in an old wing chair. Natural daylight from a patio door, and a tight crop to get rid of any background intrusions]

[William – was playing with his mum’s hat, as we were about to go out. A bit of fill-in flash gave catchlights in the eyes, without being too harsh on his face]

It’s best to get the children in question doing something – perhaps playing with their toys or dressing up. Or, if you’re lucky, “caught in the act” of getting sticky, etc.

Of course, if the children aren’t yours, you should always get their parents’ permission before taking their picture.

How To Take… A Photo Essay

A Photo Essay is a set of pictures which tells a story. It need not be about anything profound, but the images must tell the story with little textual explanation. As you can see, each individual image is no masterpiece, but taken together they form a coherent set which fit together well.

For a bit of fun, I decided to photograph the story of my lunch a while ago. I used my Canon IXUS 850 IS, rather than waving my expensive camera over a frying pan. Here’s what I came up with:

[1. Fresh Rashers – straight out of the pack]

[2. Into The Frying Pan… – a non-stick pan is essentail!]

[3. Sizzling Rashers – are browning nicely]

[4. Lashings Of Sauce – a good dollop of ketchup on the bacon is a must]

[5. The Perfect Bacon Sarnie – crispy bacon, malted brown bread, oozing with ketchup. Lovely!]

[6. Ketchup & Crumbs – is all that’s left!]

Why not choose a subject and have a go at a photo essay about it? You might be surprised what you come up with!