A perfect weekend in Rhosneigr by Neil Alexander

"Le Onde" - Rhosneigr beach, Anglesey

As I sat writing this in the front garden of our temporary holiday retreat in Rhosenigr, mere feet from the beach with the sun blazing down in mid October, the kids were trying to shoot Nerf gun pellets up through the first floor window at my sister-in-law and had exhausted boundless reserves of energy exploring rock pools and hurtling themselves down sand dunes. A gorgeous sunrise had long since departed and the day was set to be wonderful.

It was the most delightful weekend and we had been fortunate enough to have had the most fantastic weather. We make a big deal of these family weekends away, planning the menus weeks in advance and they inevitably turn into culinary extravaganzas. Food plays a huge part in our lives but I rarely photograph it. I end up too involved in the preparation, delivery and consumption. I've tried making photographs of food and quite frankly there are many many photographers far better than I at making photographs of food. Likewise weddings. And pet portraits. 

But put me in front of a rocky beach with the sun setting and some lovely fluffy cloud in the background ready to soak up the setting sun's gorge of oranges and reds, and I'm a very happy and content little bunny.

"Le rocce scure" -  Rhosneigr beach, Anglesey.

Why HDR is a valuable tool for the photographer. by Neil Alexander

Lonely tree at sunset, near Bakewell, Peak District. Photographed with 24mm TS Lens. Bracketed exposure processed in Lightroom and LR Enfuse.

I regularly read statements from other photographers stating that they hate HDR. That it all looks so over processed and downright wrong and they’d never ever go there, but I have to disagree. In my opinion the ability to combine different exposures into one final image is a particularly important tool in the photographer’s arsenal. It all depends on the method that you use. I’ve tried Nik’s HDR Efex Pro, Photomatix's HDR Soft and Photoshop, but my go to HDR application of choice is the LR Enfuse plugin for Lightroom. The fusion plugin creates a far more realistic conversion than any of the other programs do by default. I’m sure that with some careful tweaking you could get any one of the others to do the same thing, but LR Enfuse does it straight out of the box. Over time I’ve tweaked the settings slightly but it still beats the others hands down in my opinion. The additional ability to batch convert groups of images is also a huge time saver I’ve found. In Lightroom you simply group all the bracketed exposures you want to use, check the batch more processing option and off I go and have a brew or two.

Below are some sample images processed in their respective applications using the default settings.
There’s just too much clarity, over processing and just eugh for me. As a result the first thing I find myself doing is trying to tone them down. Pushing the sliders the other way just results in images that are simply put, frightening. And it’s these over processed, dayglo nightmares that give HDR a bad name. Just search Flickr for HDR and have a sick bowl at the ready.

An example of LR Enfuse default processing

An example of LR Enfuse default processing

An example of Photomatix's HDR Soft default processing

An example of Photomatix's HDR Soft default processing

An example of HDR Efex Pro default processing

An example of HDR Efex Pro default processing

An example of Adobe Photoshop's default HDR processing

An example of Adobe Photoshop's default HDR processing

Only the other day I was working a job for a local pub which has just undergone an extensive make-over. I’d done the interiors one day, some lovely sunset shots another evening but the client also wanted some images of their new beer garden in the sunshine. This meant that I’d be shooting in the worst light possible - the midday sun. But in the middle of a lovely sunny day is when people are most likely to be looking for a beer garden to sit in and enjoy a nice cold pint, and of course, the client is always right. Eek! Flash was out. I’d have needed more power than the Hadron Collider to produce enough light to cover the necessaries and over power the sun, so combining bracketed exposures* was the only way to go. A “correctly” exposed image simply blew the sky off the chart. Tweak it the other way and parts of the building were total black, but by shooting bracketed exposures I was able to merge these in LR Enfuse back at the ranch and produce images that were far more akin to what my naked eye was seeing. The reason being that the naked eye can see a range from dark to light over roughly 27 stops, but most digital camera sensors can only see between 9 and 13. So if I’m looking at the scene below of the lone tree at sunset in the High Peaks, my eyes can see the details in the sky of the clouds and the vapour trails and at the same time it can see detail in the tree. The camera can’t. It’s a technology thing. Digital sensors aren’t anywhere near as good as the marvellous feat of engineering that is the human eye, yet. So if I set the camera to expose for the sky, then the tree is in total black with little definition, and vice-versa, if I expose for the tree, then the sky ends up completely white. So by making a series of exposures across the spectrum, the software back on my iMac can merge them all together and produce a “realistic” image. 

Anyway, that’s my two cents on the subject. HDR is a tool like anything else; tripod, lenses, software, they-re all their to be used how you see fit. Discount them at your peril.

* Bracketing exposures means taking a series of images of the same scene but under and overexposing. My ageing Nikon’s will, with a quick toggle of a dial, shoot a series of up to 9 bracketed images, 4 stops over and under. This used to be my method of working but I found that I often ended up with tons of images in the bracketed series that I simply didn’t use. If it’s a 4 stop over and under bracket that I need, then I’ll manually dial in the exposures and shoot -4, -2,0, +2 & +4 meaning that I’m only filling the card with 55% of the space I was previously using. Over the course of an extended shoot, this can be GBs of data I’m saving. But that’s my preference. Auto bracketing works very well too!

Lonely tree at sunset, near Bakewell, Peak District. Processed in LR Enfuse and Lightroom.

Ibiza - a lovely spot for a wedding. by Neil Alexander

Ibiza - delightful setting for a wedding.

The weekend just gone I was invited with the boss to attend a wedding of family friends at the foam party capital of Europe, the delightful little sun kissed island of Ibiza. Never one to miss an opportunity to make photographs somewhere new I dutifully crammed as much gear into my Think Tank Airport International roller as weight and space would allow and popped my little Fuji X-Pro into my shoulder bag. 

On the first evening, after getting some serious R 'n' R in by the pool (it was ace to be sans enfants for the weekend), I had the opportunity to make some photographs around the old town of Ibiza. I decided in the end, to arm myself simply with the Fuji and it's 35mm F1.4 lens, tripod and a bunch of filters and see what I could see. When time is restricted (I had two hours with little chance of a return trip) and I'm completely new to the area, it is very hard to make good photographs. Not even knowing what's to see never mind how the last light will fall can make things very difficult indeed. I'd done as much research online as I could but until I actually had my feet on the ground, visualising any photographs was very hard indeed. The inclines and the narrowness of the streets took me by surprise and I really wasn't ready for the chaotic nature of it all. I wandered and wandered and whilst I never actually got lost, I ended up doubling back many times after hitting dead ends. It's like a rabbit warren at a 45° incline. It was certainly worth the climb up to the top though as the views are great and the sunset over the hills was a peach.

 And that was pretty much all I managed to squeeze in in the short time I was there. Oh, yes there was a wedding the next evening, and being very good friends of my wife, she "encouraged" me to take a camera and shoot some pictures for them. I know which side my bread is buttered on so obviously I complied. It was actually a lot of fun. No pressure. Just me and the lil' X-Pro again. The local pro they'd hired had a much harder time.