08 April 2021 (A Photoshop Retrospective)

This week we were delighted to welcome Libby Smith of Carluke Camera Club and the Scottish Photographic Federation.  Libby had last visited the club in 2018, only this time she didn’t need to trek from Carluke to Musselburgh in the foul weather. Libby’s talks are always fascinating and enlightening and usually contain valuable snippets of information about Photoshop techniques. This time Libby gave us a complete Photoshop perspective, describing how she first got into digital photography in the 1990s by scanning slides and film.  Photoshop began as a digital alternative to darkroom techniques. It could be used to correct the tones and colours from digitized slides, or combine slides together for special effects. Colour slides could be converted to black and white. Using Photoshop to add film grain noise to the digitized images helped lower the contrast and create an atmospheric effect. Libby learned that you can’t use the same effect on everything, and it pays to experiment and find which techniques work best for your own style of images. For example, a watercolour art effect can enhance some images by removing background detail, as long as the effect doesn’t destroy important detail in your subject. The “find edges” filter can also be used for special effects. A layer mask can be use to apply the effect only to certain parts of the image (e.g. to some tulips but not the sky behind them). You can experiment with different brush textures for creative effects. You can also change the mood by hand-colouring parts of your image.

Libby moved on to show us how she learned to make composite shots using Photoshop layers. Composites give you more creative freedom. You can take components from several different images (a lighthouse from one place, a clifftop from another place, a dramatic sky from somewhere else…) and combine them. Libby warned us that if you become well known for making composites, people will start to think every image you show is a composite! Dramatic images can be made by blending a portrait or still life image with a textured background. Libby makes textured backgrounds by photographing interesting objects (such as dried petals, plants, seed heads and feathers) against a plain white background. The white background helps you to select the objects. You can also capture images of flat objects using a flat-bed scanner. The backgrounds can be placed in separate layers and combined using “soft light”, “hard light” or “overlay” blending modes. These blending modes tend to add contrast, so it is important to reduce the contrast in the background before blending. Libby went on to show us some stunning landscape images, dramatic images of derelict cottages and mining equipment, and some beautiful portraits; all enhanced by Photoshop techniques.

During the evening we also learned the following hints and tips:

  • When using a digital camera with Photoshop, try to expose so the peak of your histogram moves as far to the right as possible without losing highlights. Unlike slide film, which is best exposed to give rich dark shadows, digital cameras give the best results when the shadows have as much light as possible.
  • Photographs tend to look darker when printed than when viewed on the screen. Libby lightens her images by half a stop before printing them.
  • The “magic wand” selection tool can be used to select a white background, enabling objects placed on that background to be selected without leaving a halo around them.
  • If you are applying special effects to a portrait, make sure the face is not affected.
  • Using a negative clarity setting in “camera raw” can create a soft focus effect (as an alternative to blurring).
  • Try removing just a subset of the colours from an image to create a black and white image with a little bit of colour. Libby often removes green to reduce the distracting effect of grass but keep the subtle colours of rocks and stones.
  • A colour print can sometimes be improved by boosting the saturation in yellow and red (using the “hue and saturation” adjustment), which will emphasise the light on the print. A sunset image can similarly be improved by reducing the saturation in the blue.

Libby was our final speaker of the season, but she gave us lots of creative ideas to try over the summer and take to next season. Thank you Libby for a very entertaining and fascinating talk.

1 April 2021 (Quiz Night)

1st April 2021 was the club’s annual quiz night, which this year took place by Zoom teleconference. Members answered 29 questions devised by Joe Fowler.  We answered a variety of questions on photography, wildlife, world events and local history and landmarks. How many people know that a Joppa to Musselburgh tram service started in 1904 and terminated at Levenhall?  Why is the Duke of Wellington statue at Princes Street and North Bridge facing south, and do you know the name of his horse?  Can you name all of Edinburgh’s seven hills, or the three lochs surrounding Arthur’s Seat?  Do you know the collective noun for a group of crows? How about puffins?  The evening wasn’t without some controversy. Was the deadly epidemic of 1918 caused by “Spanish Flu” or by the “H1N1 influenza A virus”?  Sandra Crowhurst earned herself a bonus point for knowing the full name.  Which bird has the widest wing span? The correct answer was “albatross”, but some members couldn’t believe it wasn’t a condor or pelican. The definitive answer can be found on wikipedia: The wandering albatross does have the largest span, with the great white pelican coming second and Andean condor languishing in 8th place.  There was also a debate about the number of monuments on Calton Hill, and the origin of its name.  The final result was:

  • 4th place (42 points)
    • Steven Beard
  • 3rd place (44 points)
    • Malcolm and Lorraine Roberts
  • 2nd place (46 points)
    • Mike Clark
  • 1st place (49 points)
    • Sandra Crowhurst

Well done to Sandra, whose local and historical knowledge surpassed the rest of us. Thank you to Joe for compiling the questions and giving us a very enjoyable and entertaining evening.

25 March 2021 (Set Subject Competition – Flowers and Horticulture)

The third and final part of our set subject competition took place on 25th March 2021 on the subject of “Flowers and Horticulture”.  The competition was judged by George Todd, one of last year’s winners. Besides judging this competition, George Todd began the competition top of the leader board with 108 points. This was the score everyone needed to beat.

45 images had been entered by 15 members. George remarked that flower photography was a difficult subject. It was tricky capturing a good image of flowers in a garden without including distractions in the background. Depth of field was critical. It needed to be large enough to capture the interesting parts of your flower but narrow enough to blur the background. Some of the flower images entered had been made in a garden, while others had been taken indoors under more controlled conditions.  George commented on the composition of each image. The flower images worked better when you could see the stem leading to the flower. Clusters of flowers worked just as well as single flowers, even if not all the flowers were in focus, but very blurred flowers in the background made coloured distractions. Some images worked better when cropped tighter on their subject and some needed their colours enhanced. George also commented on the lighting an exposure of the images. The UV light in strong sunlight can very easily overexpose a flower image and wash out the colours. It is better to take the images in soft light and expose for the highlights. The images overall were to a high standard, which resulted in lot of high scores.

The top scorers were (in reverse order):

  • 5th place (52 points)
    • John West
  • 4th place (53 points)
    • Malcolm Roberts
    • Steve Williams
    • Gordon Davidson
  • 3rd place (54 points)
    • Steven Beard
    • Anne Yeomans
  • 2nd place (55 points)
    • Joe Fowler
  • 1st place (56 points)
    • Elaine Gilroy

The top images were:

  • Lilly in the Rain (Joe Fowler) – 20 points
  • Sunflower (Elaine Gilroy) – 20 points
  • Reflected Beauty (Steven Beard) – 19 points
  • African Violet (John West) – 19 points
  • Frosty Leaves (Anne Yeomans) – 19 points
  • There were also 14 images with 18 points; belonging to Jennifer Davidson, Joe Fowler, Malcolm Roberts, Steven Beard, Steve Williams, Elaine Gilroy, Catriona McKay, Gordon Davidson, Ian Marr and Anne Yeomans.

Well done to Elaine Gilroy, who wins the right to judge next year’s competition! The final result of the competition after this close and high scoring round is:

  • 1st place
    • Malcolm Roberts (56 + 53 = 109)
  • 2nd place
    • George Todd (53 + 55 = 108)
  • 3rd place
    • Joe Fowler (52 + 55 = 107)
    • Steve Williams (54 + 53 = 107)
    • Gordon Davidson (53 + 54 = 107)
    • Anne Yeomans (53 + 54 = 107)
  • 4th place
    • Steven Beard (49 + 54 = 103)
    • Elaine Gilroy (47 + 56 = 103)

Well done to Malcolm Roberts, who wins the trophy! Thank you also to George Todd for judging the competition.

18 March 2021 (Documentary and Street Photography)

Derek Clark was originally scheduled to speak to us on 26th March 2020, but his talk had to be cancelled at the last minute because of the first lockdown. This week, after almost a year of waiting, we were at last able to see his presentation on Documentary and Street Photography.  Derek’s impressive portfolio can be found on his web site:

https://www.derekclarkphotography.com/

Derek shows us many examples of his photographs documenting life events, news stories, sports and music. One example is Derek’s portfolio “Death By 74 CUTS” documenting urban decay in Glasgow: https://www.kagecollective.com/kage-stories/2021/3/18/death-by-74-cuts. Derek had also captured portraits of musicians for Jazz Life magazine and CD covers.  A common theme running through Derek’s portfolio is his liking for black and white photography. Derek uses custom presets in Silver Efex Pro 2 to achieve his high contrast black and white style.

Derek also showed us his street photography and gave us tips for capturing natural candid images. Derek uses small Fuji cameras for street photography and normally shoots from the hip to avoid attracting attention. One exception is when Derek sets his camera on a tripod and uses a long exposure to capture movement. He uses wide angle lenses, such as a Fuji 28mm or 35mm lens. Wide angle lenses require you to get close to your subject, but they don’t need to be pointed right at the subjects. Derek uses zone focussing: manually setting the focus to a certain distance, noting the depth of field, and just waiting for subjects to come into the focus zone.

Derek’s presentation was fascinating, and he has given us some inspiration to go out and capture candid images once the present lockdown has ended.

 

 

11 March 2021 (Swedish Interclub)

Our very last face to face meeting of 2020 was the Swedish Interclub meeting, where we reviewed images submitted to us by Mölnlycke Fotoclubb, in Gothenburg, Sweden.

19 March 2020 (Swedish Inter-club Competition)

Almost one year later, on 11th March 2021 were were once again reviewing their images. This time however, thanks to our newly discovered method of holding virtual meetings by Zoom, we were joined by Mölnlycke Fotoclubb members. Both clubs had submitted 21 images each, which were reviewed in turn. Musselburgh members submitted votes for their top 5 favourite Mölnlycke images, which were:

  • 1st (36 votes)
    • A beautiful and mysterious image of a woodland stream. This was by far the most popular image, which most members who voted declared as their favourite.
  • 2nd place (23 votes)
    • A striking image of trees covered in snow contrasting with the soft water of a stream, lit by a golden light.
  • 3rd place (19 votes)
    • A beautiful New Zealand landscape with fantastic mountains and lovely reflections, with a duck captured in just the right place.
  • 4th equal (16 votes)
    • An innovative and beautiful, minimalist image of a small tree, created using a double exposure.
  • 5th place (12 votes)
    • A well posed, backlit image of a robin.

Mölnlycke members’ favourite Musselburgh image was a striking black and white picture of a rose created by Elaine Gilroy.

 

 

 

04 March 2021 (Three Weeks in Burma)

On 4th March Mölnlycke Fotoclubb chair Jan Arell joined us to describe the three weeks he spent 2 years ago visiting and photographing Burma (also known as Myanmar).  Jan’s presentation was quite poignant, given the tragic news reports currently coming from that country at the moment.  Jan had been a journalist and foreign news reporter, so he was used to touring and photographing interesting places around the world; and Burma/Myanmar was one of his favourite places.  He began with a quick overview of the country and a map showing the many places he had visited during the three weeks. Then he entertained us with a stunning series of images of golden temples covered in gemstones, a truly gigantic Buddha statue and a temple containing the world’s largest book. He contrasted his images of bejewelled temples with the basic houses and shacks where people lived and the places they worked. He showed portraits of locals wearing colourful costumes and market stalls selling everything from food and textiles to gemstones.  Jan also took us virtually on a narrow gauge train journey across the country, including a video shot as the train travelled across a frighteningly deep river gorge. Then he showed us the aerial images he had captured during a balloon trip across the country.

Jan told us that he found Burma to be a “photographer’s paradise”. He discovered almost everyone was eager to be photographed, and most would offer a portrait just for the laugh of seeing themselves appear on the back of your camera. The decorated temples, market stalls and lovely scenery also had great photographic potential.

Thank you to Jan for an evening that was both enjoyable, informative and tinged with a little sadness. Let’s hope one day the photographic beauty of that country will once again become its main talking point.

 

18 February 2021 (Astrophotography & Action Photography)

This week the club had a virtual visit from Andy Bennetts of Haddington Camera Club, who gave us two talks on very different photographic subjects: “Astrophotography” and “Action Photography“. 

Astrophotography

Andy showed us examples of different kinds of astrophotography. The easiest subject to photograph is the Moon, which is best photographed on a clear night with your longest possible telephoto lens. Andy’s examples were photographed with his 400mm lens, with a 2x converter, at ISO 3200, 1/2000sec at f5.6. The tripod and fast shutter speed help remove camera shake at this extreme magnification. You can use the web site https://www.timeanddate.com/ to predict the phases of the Moon and look up the times of moonrise and moonset.  Andy also likes to photograph the Sun at sunrise or sunset. You need to be careful not to look at the Sun through the telephoto lens and use a narrow aperture to protect your camera. The Sun will appear as a featureless disk unless you use a dark solar filter (see https://www.baader-planetarium.com/en/solar-observation.html), so it is best photographed next to a landmark. The web site https://photoephemeris.com/ can be used to predict when and where to photograph the Sun and Moon against local landmarks. There are also smartphone apps called TPE and Sun Surveyor which give you the same information.

Andy then showed us how to photograph more difficult subjects, such as the stars and Milky Way. These are best photographed from a dark site well away from light pollution. The most convenient dark site near East Lothian is the B6355 from Gifford to Duns. The camera should be set to manual focus and manual exposure for best results.  A red headlight is useful for setting up your camera in the dark.  Andy recommends focussing by looking at a magnified “live view” on the back of the camera, rather than just setting your lens to infinity. Photographs to emphasise star trails are best made with a wide angle lens, with the camera on a tripod. Exposure times of up to an hour can be achieved by setting the shutter speed to “bulb” and using a remote shutter release. Images containing some foreground detail, such as trees, lakes and mountains, will have the most impact. Use a wide aperture and an ISO setting below 400 to reduce noise. On the other hand, photographs to emphasise the Milky Way need an exposure time of 20-30 seconds to prevent star trails. These shots require an ISO setting greater than 1600. Andy recommends taking 5 or more shots of the same scene and stacking them in Photoshop to reduce the noise. Layers can be matched together manually using the “difference” blending mode. The Milky Way shows up better on a dark, clear night without the Moon.  Andy showed us some beautiful images he had taken by the Whitadder reservoir.  Finally, Andy showed us some post-processing tips for astrophotography:

  • Darken the shadows to emphasise the blackness of the night sky
  • Increase the contrast to brighten the stars.
  • Increase clarify, vibrance and saturation to emphasis the faint detail and colour.

Action Photography

Andy then showed us the techniques he uses to capture action shots, using different kinds of sporting events as examples. The photographer has control of the aperture, shutter speed, focal length and camera movement.  A wide aperture (such as f2.8) is useful for reducing the depth of field to emphasise the action while blurring the background.  A fast shutter speed (such as 1/500s) will help to freeze the action, while a slower shutter speed (such as 1/50s) can help to emphasise movement. Panning the camera helps to emphasise the movement of fast-moving subjects such as motorbikes, cars and cyclists.  A long focal length lens allows you to zoom in on the action from a distance. You can also eliminate a distracting background (such as ugly buildings behind a sports stadium) by cropping closely on the action, such as a rugby scrum. You can hand-hold a lens up to 200mm, but for longer focal lengths Andy recommends a tripod or monopod. A monopod gives you the best compromise between steadiness and flexibility. If you don’t have a long lens there are also opportunities for capturing action from a closer viewpoint, such as at the Edinburgh Marathon or at road cycling events.

Getting the focus right is one of the most difficult aspects of action photography. Autofocus works better when your subjects are well separated from the background, but even then most of the shots will not be focussed properly. Andy takes lots of shots and selects the ones with the best focus. Some sporting events, such as horse racing, are difficult to get right with autofocus. For those events, Andy recommends manually focussing on a stationary object, such as a fence, and waiting for the riders to jump or pass that fence.

Andy gave us some hints on where to find subjects for action photography. There are usually (when not in lockdown) regular football, rugby and cricket events in Haddington. Horse racing can be photographed at Musselburgh, action water events often take place at Fox Lake Adventures, near Dunbar, golf at Gullane, Canoeing at Grand Tully, wind surfing at Longniddry and Gullane beach (best viewed at high tide) and Motor Cycling at East Fortune.

Thank you to Andy for a very enjoyable and informative double evening.

11 February 2021 (Set Subject Competition – Landscapes)

The second of our 3-part set subject competition took place this week. The subject was “Landscapes”, and the competition was judged by Jennifer Davidson, one of last year’s winners. There were 48 images altogether, entered by 16 members. There are fewer opportunities for capturing good landscape images during current restrictions. Some members had submitted views from their local environment, but most images came from trips members had made in the past. There were many Scottish landscapes, ranging from East Lothian to Skye, along with scenes captured overseas as far away as the USA, Iceland, Southern Africa and New Zealand.

Jennifer commented on the composition of each image, with some compositions becoming stronger when cropped to make their main subject off-centre. In some cases, a sloping horizon, or the presence of dust spots, caused a distraction. Some images contained distracting features, such as dead trees, foreground weeds, or too many people, which could have been removed by cloning or by waiting for a better opportunity. There were also some examples of poor cloning, and Jennifer recommended always going over a cloned area a second time to look for duplicate features or areas which stand out because they are sharper or softer than their surroundings. She also recommended checking the direction of light and shadows within a composite image. The most frequent comment was about the sharpness of the images. Most landscape images need to be sharp from foreground to horizon. While some images (such as of crashing waves or fleeting mist) could be hand-held grab shots, landscape images are best taken using a tripod and a narrow aperture to give a good depth of field.

The top scorers were (in reverse order):

  • 5th place (50 points)
    • Steve Williams
  • 4th place (51 points)
    • Malcolm Roberts
  • 3rd place (52 points)
    • Joe Fowler
  • 2nd place (54 points)
    • Gordon Davidson
  • 1st place (55 points)
    • George Todd

The top images were:

  • View from the Crags (Joe Fowler) – 20 points
  • Alftavatn Lake Boat House (George Todd) – 20 points
  • Pentlands Weather (Malcolm Roberts) – 19 points
  • Milarochy Sunset (Gordon Davidson) – 19 points
  • Kincardine Sunset (Gordon Davidson) – 19 points
  • Kalahari Desert and Lone Oryx (George Todd) – 18 points
  • View from Traprain Law (Carol Edmund) – 18 points

Well done to George Todd, who wins the right to judge next year’s competition! The league table after two competitions looks like this:

George Todd (53 + 55 = 108)
Malcolm Roberts (56 + 51 = 107)
Gordon Davidson (53 + 54 = 107)
Steve Williams (54 + 50 = 104)
Joe Fowler (– + 52 = ??)
Anne Yeomans (53 + 48 = 101)
Mike Clark (50 + 49 = 99)
Carol Edmund (49 + 49 = 98)

Only 1 point separates George Todd from the rest of the field. Entries for the final part of the competition (“Flowers and Horticulture”) are due on 4th March 2021.

 

4 February 2021 (Audio Visual Evening)

This week Musselburgh Camera Club hosted the annual audio visual evening with Beeslack Penicuik Camera Club.  Normally we host these evenings from the large G6 room at Fisherrow, but this year the evening was held virtually by Zoom teleconference. There were 33 participants, and our internet bandwidth held up enough to show 7 audio visual presentations.

The evening began with a Beeslack presentation on the Scottish Enlightenment, with stories and portraits of the key figures involved and its effect on the present day.  There followed a Musselburgh presentation made during the first lockdown in 2020, which showed that by staying close home you can discover and appreciate new details in your environment, such as the Prestonpans murals trail and battle memorials.  There followed some close encounters with wild animals photographed at Edinburgh Zoo and a wildlife park in Australia, accompanied by a great natural sound track.  Musselburgh reprieved a show on the demolition of Cockenzie Power Station, made back in 2015. The story had become relevant again because the demolition of the boilerhouse at Longannet Power Station was in the news.  Beeslack then showed a great presentation on Roslyn Chapel, which included drone footage and a mixture of outdoor and indoor shots.  Musselburgh reprieved a show about the first flight by the Wright Brothers, and the evening finished with the heroic story of William Ned Barnie, who served in the First World War, swam the channel and now has a street in Portobello named after him.

It was a pleasure to be able to host a joint meeting and chat with Beeslack members afterwards. We wish we could have offered them some tea and cakes, but I hope we can do so when we next host this meeting in 2 years. Next year the meeting is hosted by Beeslack.

 

28 January 2021 (Pecha Kucha Evening)

On 28th January the club had its annual “Pecha Kucha” evening, where members bring along 10 images of their choice and spend 20 seconds describing each image. The Zoom format was particularly well-suited to this kind of evening, with members able to show the images from their own computers, rather than bringing them along to Fisherrow.

The evening began with a cloning demonstration to supplement the advice given during the Nature and Wildlife set subject competition.  Steven showed how the clone stamp tool (shown below) can be used to copy shapes and textures from one part of an image to another using Photoshop (as shown below). The key thing to remember is that once you have sampled a point (by clicking the brush on the image while holding the ALT key) and then started painting on the image (by clicking the brush somewhere else) the two points keep the same relationship. It is like moving around the yellow dumb-bell shape shown in the picture.

Some cloning tips:

  • Cloning will be easier if the size of the area you are overwriting is smaller than the size of the area you are copying.
  • Watch out for repeating patterns, or broken edges, which give away the fact you have cloned an image.  Zoom in and clone the area again with a smaller brush to remove the patterns.
  • Use a soft brush at 100% opacity. (If you need to eliminate distractions in a blurred background, try the healing brush instead of the clone stamp. It works in a similar way but automatically blends the result.)
  • For the best results work slowly and carefully, and make sure that straight lines stay straight. If you work in a separate layer you can undo any changes that don’t look right.

After the cloning demonstration we began the Pecha Kucha evening.

Steven Beard showed photographs he had taken while visiting the Crawford Collection at the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh. This rare collection of books is seldom seen by the public.

John West described his journey into photography, showing his first camera and the photographs he had taken to entertain his children, including an impressive collection of paperclip figures.

Gavin Marshall showed us photographs he had taken of an amazingly detailed dolls house he had seen while visiting a historic building in Dalkeith. He also showed us the impressive fireplace at Cragside.

Jennifer Davidson also described how she had ventured into photography and showed some of her earlier contributions to the club. She recommended the Tough Mudder event for capturing images of human spirit under endurance.

Lorraine Roberts showed us images from Gullane beach and some photographs of impressive ice textures she had discovered at Musselburgh Lagoons.

Malcolm Roberts showed some beautiful reflections captured at the Gosford Estate and Musselburgh Lagoons, and a panoramic view from a golf course near Gullane.

Carol Edmunds showed some of the favourite photographs she had taken, including a rare rally car seen in a B&Q car park and a portrait of Colin Baker she had captured captured at a Comic Con event.

Thank you to everybody who brought along their special images to entertain us.