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In the (not so) bleak mid-winter.

As I write this, my Facebook photography page now has more than 2200 followers which is very humbling. I'm thrilled so many people admire my photography. It is not easy to build a profile like this on Facebook these days, requiring a lot of patience, interaction and acknowledgment of followers comments and questions. My philosophy is that if people take the time to comment or ask questions then they deserve respect, recognition and thanks. From the comments I get, many images invoke quite an emotional response and connection especially to those who are living away from 'home'. In the end, my pleasure is in bringing pleasure to others to the extent that they want to follow my photography feed and it's a lot better to consume, even gorge on, from a health perspective, than junk food (although I have no scientific evidence to support my claim).

I was intending to focus on street photography in this update but the not so bleak winter has afforded some great photography opportunities. We have been fortunate that the most glorious summer in decades was followed by a beautiful warm autumn and now a mild winter with some stunning clear, sunny, calm, crisp days, although when it has rained it has really rained. I love the dawn and dusk tones at this time of year. It may be an illusion but they seem to take on richer deeper tones than in the days of summer. I find it quite mesmerising at times. I feel like there is an unseen energy at work, a kind of spiritual thing.

The following photo was taken on the coldest morning this year. At the time I took the photo it was a finger tingling toe tapping 2degC, but the cold is bearable when you see what you wouldn't have seen if still tucked up cozily under the duvet.

First light, Mount Maunganui Beach, Tauranga, NZ 2 July 2016. 1/100sec, f/4, ISO 200

First light, Mount Maunganui Beach, Tauranga, NZ 2 July 2016. 1/100sec, f/4, ISO 200

Its undeniably a little hard to get up from a warm bed and venture out early under a dark star splattered sky on a frosty weekend morning with the intention of photographing the first light of the new day. I can say it's much harder after a couple of wines the night before. What drives me (apart from the car)? Well, it's not putting the previous night's wine bottle out in the recycling bin, letting the dog out, or opening the curtains. It sort of includes milking the weekend for all its worth and from a photography perspective it's the anticipation of what may come. Will the new day take to the stage in a blaze of glory? Will I click the shutter button and think 'that's the one!' It's such a wonderful feeling to come away thinking that I got a 'money shot'. 

First light, first flight. 1/500sec, f/10, ISO200

First light, first flight. 1/500sec, f/10, ISO200

Over many years I have climbed to the summit of Mauao (Mount Maunganui) hundreds of times, more than my aching legs would care to remember. At one stage it was 2-3 times a week, but then I had an attack of commonsense and now go up there just once a week, usually at dawn on a weekend morning and taking the steepest route. The weather and the light is always different and the views are truly spectacular. I have been up there in screaming gales, torrential rain, and on the calmest sunniest of days. The torrential rain experiences; well they have been by accident rather than intention; a result of miscalculating the chances of rain.

New day in the bay. Sunrise from 230 metres above coastal Mount Maunganui, Tauranga, NZ. 1/160sec, f/13, ISO 1250

New day in the bay. Sunrise from 230 metres above coastal Mount Maunganui, Tauranga, NZ. 1/160sec, f/13, ISO 1250

Its a fantastic spot to gorge on sunset. For a few minutes everyone seems transfixed by that beautiful stage show as the sun sinks in the west behind the Kaimai Ranges. I have been there as dusk closes in, when the only sounds have been the distant surf and the call of Morepork owls.  It's absolute magic.

Contemplation as the sun sinks below the Kaimai Range in the Western Bay of Plenty, NZ. 1/400 sec, f/9, ISO 200

Contemplation as the sun sinks below the Kaimai Range in the Western Bay of Plenty, NZ. 1/400 sec, f/9, ISO 200

As previously mentioned, the beauty of a clear, calm, cold winter dawn is in the colours. I always scope the scene for some sort point of interest. Of course I live in hope of a whale breaching, a pod of dolphins or orca, or an alien spacecraft appearing just for me. Well, hope springs eternal. In the following photo as luck would have it, a kayaker seeking a taste of arctic paddling appeared and gave me an added focal point.

I have been guilty of not using one of my most expensive and critically acclaimed pieces of camera gear, the superbly built Panasonic Leica DG Nocticron f/1.2 lens. This beautifully engineered lens is primarily designed for portrait and street photography and with a f/1.2 aperture has fantastic light gathering ability in low light situations. I love just looking at it, let alone taking photos with it. As a portrait lens it is sublime. I decided having re-read reviews that I'd use it almost exclusively for a while over a few weeks and test its ability with sunrise and sunset photography. I'm stoked with the fantastic results. I was blown away by just how good it was when I decided to use it for a recent sunrise expedition.

Dawn kayaker. Mount Maunganui, NZ. 1/320sec, f/7.1, ISO 200. Olympus O-MD E-M1 & Panasonic Leica DG Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 lens.

Dawn kayaker. Mount Maunganui, NZ. 1/320sec, f/7.1, ISO 200. Olympus O-MD E-M1 & Panasonic Leica DG Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 lens.

So, it has indeed been a not so bleak winter to date. We are past the winter solstice now and slowly but surely the daylight hours will lengthen and hopefully the power bills will start reducing. I intend to produce a 2017 calendar and am in the process of choosing images for each month. I'm also looking at other options for foisting my photos on the world. Aside from that I'm trying to go dairy free. The good thing is, that it won't preclude me from photographing cows, should I be so inclined.

Until next time.....

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Taking control

In this blog entry I thought I'd share my thoughts on using the dreaded 'M' for Manual camera function. Why would you bother? After all, with an automatic function, and on many cameras a multitude of other presets which are a part of the cost of and simplicity of operating the camera, it should be expected to drive itself. Manual seems so last decade or last century.

For all the technology packed into the camera body though, none of it takes care of the intangible. The camera cannot read your mind and really know exactly what you see and what sort of image you want to capture. If you use the set and forget preprogrammed functions like aperture priority, shutter priority, landscape mode, portrait, beach, sport, night or a host of other functions many cameras offer, you'll probably get a pretty good photo, but only probably. Probably may be good enough but if you want to apply some creativity, using the Manual option allows you to override and maybe outsmart the camera presets. You can 'tweak' the three important settings of shutter speed, depth of field, and ISO, the latter determining the level of graininess, otherwise known as 'noise' in the image. ISO is a matter for future discussion. 

My 'Toki' pendant. Signifies strength, control, determination, focus. 1/160sec, f/2, ISO 200

My 'Toki' pendant. Signifies strength, control, determination, focus. 1/160sec, f/2, ISO 200

Using a Manual setting for fast action 'need for speed' shots is not recommended. Manual mode should be confined to use in a non-rushed situation otherwise by the time you have set the camera up and fiddled with the settings the magic moment when for example, the alien in your garden gives you a wave, may be gone. Manual is no good for sports, birds in flight, or a fast moving UFO. It can be very good for landscapes, waterfalls, still life, or portrait photography though.

One of my daughters, and one of her twin daughters. 1/160sec, f/1.2, ISO 1600

One of my daughters, and one of her twin daughters. 1/160sec, f/1.2, ISO 1600

In a relaxed situation, but not so relaxed so as to be in a trance, for a landscape photo the camera could be mounted on a tripod allowing use a slow shutter speed to maximise light recorded by the camera and a high f/stop number to maximize depth of field. In the following photo I have used f/18 which has given quite good depth to the image. A low ISO setting could also be selected to minimize the amount of graininess or 'noise' in the photo. A number of experimental photos could be taken slightly tweaking each setting to give a higher chance of getting a 'that's it!' image. Some cameras (mine included) have a function called Bracketing. With my Olympus E-M1, if I use the bracketing function, when I click the shutter button it will take three photos, each with slightly different settings and then I can choose the most appealing of them.

Misty morning stillness at the end of my street. 1/400sec, f/18, ISO 1250

Misty morning stillness at the end of my street. 1/400sec, f/18, ISO 1250

Photography is all about available light and sometimes lighting situations can be too difficult to get a great image even using Manual mode and you will need to improvise with either additional lighting in a dull dark situation or some sort of light diffuser in a very bright situation. 

Shine a light. Mauao, Mount Maunganui, NZ. 1/250sec, f/10, ISO 200

Shine a light. Mauao, Mount Maunganui, NZ. 1/250sec, f/10, ISO 200

This is just an overview on using Manual mode from my perspective. There is a wealth of on-line and written tutorial information on this and other camera modes. 

My photo choice

I took this photo last year while touring a section of the west coast of Ireland from the Cliffs of Moher up to Galway and Westport. It is Kylemore Abbey set in a beautiful location in Connemara. It is regarded as Ireland's most beautiful castle.

Kylemore Abbey, Connemara, Ireland. 1/80 sec, f/14, ISO 400

Kylemore Abbey, Connemara, Ireland. 1/80 sec, f/14, ISO 400

Kylemore Castle was built as a private home for the family of Mitchell Henry, a wealthy doctor from London whose family was involved in textile manufacturing in Manchester, England. He moved to Ireland when he and his wife Margaret purchased the land around the Abbey. He became Member of Parliament for County Galway from 1871 to 1885. Construction of the castle began in 1867, and took one hundred men four years to complete. The castle covered approximately 40,000 square feet (3,700 m2) and had over seventy rooms with a principal wall that was two to three feet thick. The facade measures 142 feet (43 m) in width and is made of granite and limestone. There were 33 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, 4 sitting rooms, a ballroom, billiard room, library, study, school room, smoking room, gun room and various offices and domestic staff residences for the butler, cook, housekeeper and other servants. Other buildings include a Gothic cathedral and family mausoleum containing the bodies of Margaret Henry, Mitchell Henry and a great grand-nephew.

The Abbey remained in Henry's estate after he returned to England. The castle was sold to the Duke and Duchess of Manchester in 1909, who resided there for several years before being forced to sell the house and grounds because of gambling debts. In 1920, the Irish Benedictine Nuns purchased the Abbey castle and lands after they were forced to flee Ypres, Belgium during World War I. The nuns continued to offer education to Catholic girls, opening an international boarding school and establishing a day school for girls from the locality. The school acted as the main educator for most girls from Renvyle, Letterfrack and further afield for almost a century but it was forced to close in June 2010.

The Estate includes large walled Victorian Gardens. Since the 1970s these have been open for public tours and 'nature' walks. The Benedictine community has restored the Abbey's gardens and Cathedral with donations and local artisans in order to be a self-sustaining estate. (Ref: Wikipedia).