Blog


Anglesey Abbey

Our second visit of 2017 to a National Trust property took us to Anglesey Abbey, near Cambridge.  The property consists of 98 acres of landscaped grounds, divided into a number of walks and gardens.

IMG 2538

The front view of the house.


IMG 2478

Lode Mill - 18th century water mill, restored in 1982


IMG 2467

Silver Birch Trees on the “Winter Walk”


IMG 2511

The visitors entrance at the rear of the house.


IMG 2465

No idea what this is, but I liked the colours!


IMG 2499a

These chaps sit at either end of a bench in one of the gardens.


IMG 2541

Lightning Strikes Twice!
Giant Redwood - struck by lightning in both 1987 and 1999.

Waddesdon Manor

Spring is finally here, allowing me to start getting out & about with my camera again.  This week saw us visit Waddesdon Manor, which lies a few miles west of Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire.  It was built in the style of a french chateau between 1874 and 1889 by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild .  The property was bequeathed to the National Trust in 1957.

waddesdon3

The front of the house.


waddesdon9

The back of the house and the “Parterre” garden.


waddesdon1

The fountain is central to the “Parterre” garden.


waddesdon2

Another view of the back of the house from a bit further away.  The Parterre drops away out of sight.


waddesdon6

One of two seven metre tall structures by Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos, composed of glass wine bottles.

The bottles originate from Chateau Lafite Rothschild, which is one of the Rothschild vineyards in Bordeaux.








waddesdon4

The aviary is filled with colourful and exotic birds, including the “Rothschild Mynah”.


waddesdon10

New fronds on an Australian Tree Fern, spotted on a walk through the grounds.  These are around 2 inches high.

Testing the New Toy


I finally got round to getting a small “pocket” camera for situations where I don’t want to lug my SLR and lenses around with me.  After some research, I decided on a Panasonic Lumix TZ70.  There were a number of similar alternatives in terms of size and features, but the final deciding factor was that the Panasonic has the option of shooting in “raw” whereas the Canon, Sony and Nikon alternatives only have JPEG.  

panasonic tz70


It’s “only” 12 megapixels, but that’s plenty for my use.  The zoom is quite impressive - the equivalent of 24-720mm in SLR terms, which is quite a bit more than the longest lens I have for my SLR.  There’s a fixed 3 inch screen on the back and it has an electronic viewfinder for those bright days when you can’t see the screen on the back very well.  It also shoots movies - that’s something I’ve not tried to date, but it might be interesting to experiment with.

So… today I took it out with me for the first time, to see how I got on with it.  The river embankment at Bedford is one of my favourite places to go with a camera as there’s usually a variety of things to photograph, from wildlife, landscapes, architecture and activities on the river.  Here are some of the results:

ButterflyBridge

The “Butterfly Bridge” - one of the more interesting pieces of architecture in Bedford and something I’ve photographed many times over the years.

Squirrel

A squirrel in a tree - using the maximum zoom available.  I was quite pleased with this one as I’d never have got anywhere near as “close” with my SLR and 300mm lens.  I quickly learned that it was necessary to zoom out, find the subject on the screen and then zoom back in.  Finding the subject with the lens already on full zoom is pretty much impossible as the screen only shows such a small proportion of the view in front of you!

WaspNest

A wasps’ nest, high at the top of a tree - again on full zoom.  Another image that I wouldn’t have been able to get with my SLR and 300mm lens.

SwanHotel

The Swan Hotel - nice building, shame about the boring sky!

TheEmbankment

The Embankment.  The lady in the red coat really was there!

MeAndMyShadow

"Me and my shadow” - a lamp on the wall of the Swan Hotel. 

InTraining

"In Training" on the river Ouse.  Not quite full zoom, but not far off of it!

Overall, I’m pretty happy with the results, although I think I need quite a bit more practice!  The Pansonic obviously won’t replace my SLR but it fits nicely in my pocket so it will allow me to take a camera with me on occasions where it wouldn’t be practical to take the larger camera.

All photos shot in raw and processed using Adobe Lightroom & Photoshop.

Aurora HDR 2017

Aurora HDR - A review

For those unfamiliar with the term, HDR (High Dynamic Range) is a solution to the problem of the camera not being able to handle the full range of tones in a scene.  Often you may find that if you expose to record the foreground correctly, the sky is totally overexposed, but if you expose to capture detail in the sky, the foreground comes out far too dark.  With HDR, you take three (or more) separate exposures - one “normal”, one underexposed and one overexposed.  You then use specialised software to merge the three images into one.  The software takes the highlight details from the underexposed image and the shadow details from the overexposed image to give you a photograph with full detail in both the light and dark areas.


For a number of years, the “go to” application for HDR has been “Photomatix” but in late 2015, a new kid arrived on the block in the form of Aurora HDR  - a collaboration between software developer Macphun and HDR photographer Trey Ratcliff.  The second version of the software has just been released, going by the name of Aurora HDR 2017, adding many more features, including batch processing and additional tools for tone-mapping and masking.


First off, you need to take your photographs.  Obviously, it’s better to use a tripod, or at least a monopod to ensure your three (or more) images line up with each other, but the software does have a very good “align” function that compensates for small movements in the camera between shots, making it perfectly possible to still get excellent results from hand-held photos.   Most cameras will have a feature that can be turned on from the menu called auto-exposure bracketing. This will automatically take three shots - one normal, one underexposed and one overexposed - in quick succession if you hold the shutter button down.

Aurora Before 1.jpg


Once you have your photographs, they can be loaded into Aurora - open the three images simultaneously and Aurora will display them side by side.  There is an “align” tick box at the bottom of the screen which should be selected if you want Aurora to align the photographs for you.  This can be left unticked if you used a tripod but should be ticked if the photographs were taken hand-held.   There are three other options that need to be considered:

Ghost Reduction - this should be turned on if there are moving objects (such as people!) in the photographs.  If Ghost Reduction is turned on, Aurora will attempt to identify the movement and only use the middle exposure for that part of the image.

Colour Denoise - this tells Aurora to apply noise reduction to the darker parts of the image where the exposure is being increased.  The downside to having this on is that processing the image will take a bit longer, but otherwise this can be left on all the time.

Chromatic Aberration Removal - this gets rid of purple or green fringes around the edges.  Again, this can be left on if you don’t mind waiting a bit longer for Aurora to process the image, or it can just be turned on for those images where the purple / green fringes are noticeable.


When you have the correct options selected, you can click on the “Create HDR” button and let Aurora perform its magic.  After a brief wait, Aurora will display the basic merged image on screen.  This will probably appear rather flat and washed out, but this is just the starting point - now the fun begins! 


Aurora comes with a large number of presets and it’s generally a good idea to try a few of these to see if one of them will give you a look that’s close to how you want the image to appear.  The presets appear at the bottom of the screen, with a small thumbnail image to give a preview of what they each might look like.


The presets some in a number of categories - Basis, Realistic, Landscape, Dramatic, Indoor and Architecture, as well as some custom presets by HDR photographers Trey Ratcliff, Serge Ramelli and Captain Kimo.  Some of these are quite surreal and need to be kept for the right image (and I don’t expect to ever find the right image for some of them!) some of them (particularly in the “Realistic” category) are quite good.  Once you have found something you like, you can apply the preset and either stick with it as it is, or use it as the starting point for further adjustments.  Aurora allows you to save your own presets for future use.

Aurora After 1.jpg


The main control panel includes a lot of sliders that will be familiar to users of Lightroom or the Photoshop Camera Raw plug-in, but a closer inspection reveals that they’re not just a copy - Aurora’s controls might be better described as “Lightroom on Steroids”! 

Besides the usual exposure, contrast, highlights & shadows, vibrance, saturation and clarity sliders, there are numerous additional controls that allow you to adjust the colour tint separately for highlights & shadows, the level of detail, the image radiance, glow and the top & bottom lighting.  The latter acts like a neutral density filter allowing the top & bottom of the image to be adjusted separately with the transition point being completely adjustable in size, position and angle. 


The other main feature of Aurora is layers, which is something that will be familiar to Photoshop users.  By using layers, it’s possible to have different settings for different parts of the image.  You can have the basic image as the bottom layer and then add all the adjustments to an adjustment layer on top of the image, then add different adjustments to an additional adjustment layer on top of the first one.  The layers can then be masked - which means you can paint on the layer to make that part of the layer “see through”.  As an example, you may want one set of adjustments for the foreground and a different set of adjustments for the sky.  On the first adjustment layer, you add the adjustments for the foreground.  Then you turn that layer off and add a second adjustment layer for the sky.  Turning the first layer back on will apply both sets of adjustments over the whole image.  Masking off the sky on the first layer and masking off the foreground on the second layer will mean that only the second layer adjustments apply to the sky and only first layer has an effect on the foreground.  


Whilst you should use multiple exposures for the best results, it’s quite possible to use Aurora to process a single image.  Shooting in “raw” format is recommended if you do this as the raw file will contain the full highlight & shadow detail that the camera was able to record in the single exposure.


A comparison with Photomatix is inevitable - Aurora has more features, but Photomatix is noticeably faster.  If you have a lot of images to process and time is of the essence, then Photomatix may still be the better option.  This was particularly the case with the first version of Aurora which lacked a batch processing option, but Aurora 2017 now has batch processing and although it’s still slower than Photomatix, the speed has been improved from the previous version.  For me, the additional options - particularly layers, which are totally lacking in Photomatix - are the deciding factor that has made Aurora my HDR software of choice.


Aurora HDR 2017 is currently available for Apple Macintosh only, but a Windows version is planned for Spring 2017.  The software costs £78 to buy but a free trial is available for download from the website: https://aurorahdr.com


 


 


© Gareth Kitchener 2017