Modems, Mobiles & Tablets – Who needs an excuse for a photo session? Well, it would be rude not to……wouldn’t it?
Wednesday 13th March – 03:15 The recent weeks have been pretty poor when it comes to the weather, well so I thought. Having spoken with my Mum and Dad yesterday it seemed that the little pocket of Cumbria called Haverigg had missed out on all this inclement weather and somehow the rest of us have ended up with quite a raw deal. Before they went to New Zealand for Christmas I informed my lovely mum that she was paying way over the odds for her telephone and broadband package and a better deal was to be had elsewhere. Changing before they went to the far-flung corner of the globe wasn’t really an option so it was decided to leave it until they came back. Anyway, yesterday was changeover day; well it was originally Tuesday but twenty-four hours wasn’t going to make any difference was it? By the way, had that situation been in reverse and I had needed assistance being told I had to do without my broadband for a night would have driven me mad.
Watching the weather is something that seems to have descended through the male ranks in our family. My grandfather used to watch the weather and I can go with that, like me he was a photographer and it made all the difference to have a sunny day for your images. It just makes them sparkle and stand out by comparison. My dad is just the same as his father, ruled by the weather, an outdoor person who finds been stuck indoors akin to life in a prison cell. With views from home of the Lake District mountains the Duddon Estuary and the Walney Peninsulas it has to be said that it doesn’t look quite the same in miserable weather. I find it hard to admit this, but I think I have caught the very same disease but maybe just a lighter strain of it. I will quite happily take photographs in poor weather, after all you are reflecting a moment in time and if the weather was like that on the day…then c’est la vie that’s the way it rolls. So after checking with the Met Office website and finding out that Wednesday was going to be more than suitable, it was time to set my stall out.
Sunrise was 07:12 at Windermere. I knew in my head what I was looking for but a little bit of research was in order as you cannot pause the rising sun while you move locations. Using modern computer applications can save you a lot of time and effort. Google Earth as a reconnaissance tool is fine but it doesn’t give you much idea when it comes to location and the position of the sun. What there is to offer on the wonderful www is Suncalc . This is a fantastic little tool for working out where the sun comes up and sets in relation to your current location. A screen shot of yesterdays is shown.
As you can see, this is ideal for planning sunset and sunrise shots. My original intentions had me down for Waterhead; this is about two miles north of where I ended up at Wray Castle. I wanted some shots looking across the lake with some reflections and a nice morning sky. After using suncalc I decided that this location would have been no use whatsoever as the sun would be emerging too far to the east of there to get any decent water reflection shots. Bouncing out of bed and grabbing a quick coffe I left home at just before 4:00am and joined the A65 heading north-west towards the Lake District. I only saw a handful of vehicles in the quiet two and a half hour journey and actually managed it without stopping. I actuallt felt like I was in a race. A race against the rising sun, Jeremy Clarkson east your heart out. As I approached Ambleside the sky was already paling, I got my bearings and decided that suncalc had it spot on so proceeded to head over to the edge of Lake Windermere near Wray Castle. I followed my nose, my instinct and the Sat-Nav and found a small car park well off the beaten track near the shoreline at High Wray. The trees were very close to the edge of the water but it was perfect for the sunrise. Whilst waiting for the sun to show its face I looked around from my spot by the lake for the possibility of other photo opportunities. As I looked towards the North-East I noticed the pink glow tinging the side of Fairfield this was a tell-tale sign that the sun was on its way. With the low light prior to dawn I opted for a tripod and got myself in position for my first shot. I knew exactly what I was looking for and panoramas were the order of the day. Below is my first attempt of the “Morning”….
The shot above is a composite image, it has been stitched together from 6 single images hence the unusual cropping. Even without the sun in the shot it just seemed right. I had a good look around and tried different angles and in particular kept taking several images that overlapped in order to stitch them when I got back home. The whole set on Flickr seems to lean towards the photo-stitches but I quite liked the panorama effect over the lake and after all that’s what I had planned to do. As the sun rose higher the colours started to kick in. It wasn’t as intense as I had hoped but it still left a golden glow to the whole scene. As I said earlier the road where my car was parked was very close to the water’s edge, this left very little option for stepping back and obtaining some distant shots which was quite frustrating. A pair of swans made an appearance and drifted across my view… it was like they were summoned to be there just for me. I just kept tapping away and making minor adjustments to the settings to make life easier for when I got the images in to the computer. It wasn’t long before the beautiful colour started to dissipate, once the glow had gone and the sun rose above the low-lying southern fells of Cumbria an early spring like atmosphere set its stall out for the day. I can’t post all the images on here but I have included a small slide show below. Failing that head over to my Flickr page here to look at them in more detail.
I jumped back in my car, not literally, and attempted to get back to a more appropriate road. Preferably one that was wider than six feet, surrounded by thicket and one that I was confident would lead me south-west. I sat in the car pondering my options; do I head back towards Ambleside for some more images or find my way towards the peninsulas, my parents home and breakfast. I opted for a quick peek over the hedge at Ambleside and headed back where I had come from along the B5286. Parking is quite difficult at the best of times in Ambleside and this was 07:45 on a Wednesday morning and there was no where to park. So, I made a quick pit stop for a bladder drainage and observed the view from a small car park near Waterhead whilst parked in a drop off zone. The angle I had chosen for the sunrise images from Wray Castle had me intentionally facing in to the sun, now the sun had risen a little I was presented with a problem from this end of the lake. It was far too bright and way too “contrasty” for any decent images so I made the decision to call it a day for Windermere and turn around yet again.
It was time to head south-west and off towards the small village of Haverigg. I usually don’t have a problem getting from A to B and I have been to Haverigg more times than I brushed my teeth last year, but what I have never done before is visit this place arriving from central Lake District. I had it in my mind which way to go so I assumed that the Sat-Nav would follow suit. Err, no…it had different ideas. So off I went, exploring ! My parents were aware of my impending visit and as a result they informed me that they would be up and ready earlier than usual. I wasnt entirely sure what “usual” was for them but I reckoned on 08:45-09:00 as an estimate and a good time for breakfast too. I made my way across the county following the Sat-Nav to the letter. I kept looking at the stunning views and couldn’t help noticing the snow adorning the summits of the higher central peaks. There were so many photo opportunities that I missed and it became frustrating as stopping was impossible. The narrow road and a lack of lay-bys, passing places and farm gates prevented me from taking up those opportunities. It really cheesed me off and round every corner a glance over my right shoulder only confirmed what I was missing. I was like a child been dragged away from Santa’s Grotto without actually meeting the big guy himself and getting a present. Still I managed a couple from the comfort of my driving seat whilst waiting for a tractor to pass me.
After 45 minutes on the road I finally pulled in to the small seaside village of Haverigg. I have said this in previous posts but I will say it again, as sleepy as this village may be it always excites me. I think I am looking at that from a photographers perspective as the subject matter in this location is endless. I always think that I need to spend at least a week here providing the skies were cloudless and it was warm and dry throughout. As I came off the main coast road and turned on to the seafront along Sea View I stopped in awe at the view. I have seen this view a thousand times but this morning it was stunning. I grabbed my mobile phone and took an image that had my name and style stamped all over it. I shot straight in to the sun creating a very contre-jour style look. The image is below and is straight from the phone with no edit involved.
After getting my shot I looked back over my shoulder and considered whether should stop again and open my camera bag. All I could think was “ive got this shot so many times it would be totally pointless.” I was right to consider this as I do have this image in many variations, different seasons, alternative weather and alternative angles. I moved on and parked up outside my parents house.
It has become apparent that in this day and age that companies no longer seem interested in keeping your business. I came across this just last week and covered it well in my blog post entitled “I dont always listen to what they say…do I” I also mentioned that my parents had changed their phone and broadband contract from BT to Sky. In my opinion this was a wise move, cheaper and effortless too. My job (after a small breakfast) was to remove all the BT equipment and install the Sky modem and eventually get my mums’ lovely computer back online. In addition to this I had a number of smaller jobs that involved connecting a tablet to wireless, connecting a laptop to the same network and demonstrating how to use a Samsung Smartphone. Oh, and connecting that to the wireless network too. All in a days work for me and a piece of cake.
As far as setting up the equipment goes, this was like taking candy from a baby and I had it done in less than fifteen minutes. I even had the PC online and wireless up and running within another five minutes. The fun and games started when setting up the email address. Instructions were fine for setting the primary user but were not so clear when you wanted to change the email address generated by Sky’s computer to something a little more user-friendly. Rumplestiltskinsunderpants1245@sky.com doesnt exactly make things that easy when you are stood outside Tesco chatting to a friend you havent seen since school and he or she asks for your email address. By the time they have typed that in to their phone you could have emailed it yourself, packed up the car with the shopping and gone home. So my first job after getting online was to create a new one. I did it, but it took a phone call to an operative to complete the task. Instructions were not that obvious and the help facility online ranked much closer to “unhelpful”. By the time all this was done I needed to stretch my legs and get some fresh air so I persuaded my dad to drive me a couple of miles down to Devonshire Road. This location provides some excellent views looking inland and eastwards towards the Lake District fells. The location (Borwick Rails) used to be a harbour as around Millom there was a local coasting trade in coal, iron and slate. The discovery of large quantities of iron ore led to a huge increase in shipments out of the area from the Hodbarrow Mining Company’s pier at Crab Marsh Point (Borwick Rails), with almost 600 vessels using it in 1864.The ironworks of the Cumberland Mining & Smelting Company Limited began production in 1867, and in the following year started to build their own pier at Borwick Rails, only a stone’s throw from the mining company’s pier. Millom Pier grew to be nearly half a mile long, and included the original harbour. On one day in January 1892, eight steam vessels shipped 4400 tons of ore from the mines. The last shipment took place in 1940, and the pier was derelict by 1951.
This was a place that I had been to a few times before, as a child and in recent years too. I always seemed to leave my camera behind or bad weather would hamper any opportunity for a photograph. Today, I was half way there. The sun was out on the distant fells but a large mass of cloud blowing from the north-east put my chances of getting a sunlit foreground as slim. We waited for about thirty minutes and then gave up. The cloud was swirling and moving very slowly, it was very difficult to work out exactly where the sun would emerge which made it very difficult to predict its appearance at all. I decided to make the best of a bad situation and grab some images anyway. The shot above is a composite image of twelve individuals and as you can see the foreground is very dark. I wanted to create this “HDR” look despite it not actually been an HDR image. I was reasonably pleased with the outcome.
The loitering, lingering and very dark cloud that spoiled my images from Borwick Rails continued to hang around for much of the afternoon. I had hoped it wouldn’t. For years my journeys to Haverigg usually involve a routing from Leeds to Kirkby Lonsdale and then the A595 along the southern tip of Cumbria. This is a beautiful part of the world and the view from one particular point in this journey is absolutely spectacular. The panoramic view from the hill above Grizebeck near the Burlington Slate Quarry is somewhat stunning. A very old friend, Richard Sugden captured an image from this location that caught my eye and all I could imagine was how this scene would look like at sunset? I feel a challenge coming on !
I checked the sunset times and gauged my departure time from Haverigg to co-ordinate an arrival at the quarry for the setting sun. I got it spot on too, I kept looking in the rear view mirror whilst en-route and could see the sun from only a couple of spots on the main road. The mountains and fells in this location are high enough to block the sun from the valley roads especially in Winter. As I drove up the hill out of Grizebeck I could see the sun about to dip behind fells and the sky was turning in to a gradient from blue to orange. The clouds were illuminated by the golden light and looked like lampshades lit by an orange bulb. The scene was perfect. I turned in to the entrance of the Quarry at the top of the hill, this was uncharted territory for me. I kept driving, there were no barriers or security gates. No bollards or warning signs. I kept going, over the cattle grid and climbing even higher. I reached the summit and pulled over on the right. There is only one word that describes the view from up here…. WOW ! I will let you judge for yourself when you see the image below, but I am confident you will agree with me. From the north I could see a snow storm blowing across the mountains. This would be spectacular if the storm would blow across the setting sun. Would it move fast enough, it was a race between the sun and the cloud, would it be quick enough for me to capture the setting sun and the storm in one shot. It was leaving a haze on the sky that almost looked like fine smoke from a grass fire … oh if this was to move fast enough and cross the path of the setting sun I would be in for a treat. I wasnt so lucky, I did however manage to capture the blowing snow in the right hand side of the images.
There were a combination of elements that in my opinion would make this image look special. In the valley the Duddon Estuary was calm, still and reflecting the glow of the sky against the black of the shadows. To the North was the impending snow storm, and to the south was a bank of cloud with a rim of iridescent reds and oranges contrasting against the blacks. This was perfect, a perfect end to a perfect day. I will say no more, other than I arrived home 18 hours and 225 miles after leaving with 300 images that were well worth the effort. Oh and mums’ broadband is working too. I hope you enjoy the images, I did. Remember to look on Flickr as they are many more.
A few years ago I dabbled in making panorama images using Photoshops’ Automated photo merge tool. As the tool is integrated in to Adobe’s CS5 package; unless you have mega memory it tends to be very unreliable and in my experience has a habit of closing itself down halfway through its operation. I found this so frustrating I decided to look elsewhere for some stitching and panorama software. This was when I stumbled across an early version of a program that was going to change the way I saw things. From 2:3 ratio to Panorama !
Microsoft Image Composite Editor (ICE) is a free, yes FREE piece of software for Windows that will stitch overlapping images. And because its dedicated to stitching it works very quickly and is very accurate too. It can be used stand alone so you don’t need to own a copy of Photoshop to turn out panoramic images of excellent quality. Obviously to adjust and edit your finished piece a copy of Photoshop or any other editing and manipulation software is essential. I am going to show you the process of a simple panorama image, from the RAW images to the finished piece. Hope you enjoy, and remember to try it yourself, you can do it with a mobile phone app these days, but trust me when I say…this way is so much better.
To download Microsoft Image Composite Editor click here
The first task is to capture a series of images that overlap. The overlap is the important bit here, in matter of fact it’s quite essential as ICE (Image Composite Editor) relies on data being matched in order to stitch the images together. One thing to note is that the images don’t have to be in a landscape format, they can be in a square or even in a random shape. Which ever way you decide to compose your images the same rule applies…they must all overlap for the ICE to work. I have selected three sunrise images (Fig.1) all taken within 10 seconds of each other. You can probably see the obvious overlap on the photographs before we even begin to stitch them together. This is very important.
Open your images from your camera either in to Photoshop or straight to your hard drive if you have no photo editing software (Fig.2). If you have no editing software then skip to the next step and open ICE. One thing to bear in mind when shooting the images is to get the exposure as accurate as possible and be consistent over the series you shoot. This will help you considerably when editing and finally stitching the images. If you find that one of the images is over or under exposed it will clearly stand out amongst a stitch of several images. Its much easier to get it correct first time than go back and make adjustments and have to do the stitch all over again.
The images should all be sized to exactly the same size. Most of my images are edited for the web and Flickr so they are resized at 1600×1200 pixels at 72 pixels per inch. With the images edited to look similar in exposure, contrast, brightness and depth its a simple case of saving them to a location on your hard drive. The next step is to install and run Microsoft Image Composite Editor. You will then be presented with an interface as shown in Fig.3
You now have a choice; you can either drag your images from the saved location as a selection (i.e. all 3 at once) or you can click FILE, NEW PANORAMA and select the images this way. In all fairness the latter is probably better as you can ensure from previews that you actually select the correct images. see (Fig.4)
Once the images are imported in to Microsoft Image Composite Editor the program will start working straight away. Depending on how many images you have selected for your stitch and how complex they are will affect the amount of time the software takes to produce the output. A simple 3 or 4 image composite should only take a few seconds to complete. During the process you will see a screen like Fig.5
When the program has finished you should be presented with a composite image of all your selected photographs (Fig.6) I did mention earlier that the system is not 100% accurate and occasionally errors do occur. I cannot suggest a solution to errors as I don’t yet have one. I did try selecting a smaller number of images for the stitch, then doing a second stitch with the remainder. Then finally stitching the two stitches, if that makes sense. This does overcome the problem slightly but once again is not guaranteed. Ok, so you now have your stitch, and it should look something like Fig.6. As you can see its look is very unfinished and scrappy. I do call this a “Tatty Stitch” and occasionally I will pop this final image in to Photoshop as it is and make an image from it. An example of this can be seen in Fig.7 below
The crop boundaries can be adjusted according to your requirements, once you are happy it just a case of saving your image to your location of choice. This is done by clicking “export to disk”. So there you have it. A very easy and effective way of creating either a landscape panorama or a general photostitch. There are many possibilities with stitches, not just landscapes but in general photography. It can be great fun to capture a group of people, particularly a few who are moving around, occasionally you can find the same person in the stitch in more than one location. Below is the final image (Fig.8) I created from three single frames using the steps above. Hope you like it, any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact me or leave a message in the comment box on here.
If you like the idea of photo stitching and would like to see some more of my attempts, please take a look at this specific set I create on Flickr just for composites : Click HERE
Thank you for reading this post. If you have as much success as I have doing this, please contact me and show me your stitches, I would love to see them.