Reflections – I’m a GuruShots Veteran

When the “Reflections” challenge ends later today, I’ll be a #GuruShots Veteran. Ha ha ha …. Anyways, this is the image I uploaded:

Gormanston Reflections

I’m chuffed to bits because I’m moving up the rankings but it’s also completely aware that this is in reality slightly meaningless as a measure of how I’m improving technically in my photography. That said, I’m going to take this as a pat on the back because I do think the quality of my images (in terms of clarity) have definitely improved – probably due to a better tripod so more stability – but also with a massive pinch of salt. I am certainly NOT a veteran so I think it’s the description more than anything that tickles me and makes me chuckle. Still, I think overall pleased with the move up the GuruShots rankings as I have been making an effort to get out and practice more so – as I’ve noted in previous posts – this is my primary incentive in taking part in challenges and on this basis, I’m winning!

I’ve had the DSLR (Nikon D3400 – a decent entry level camera) since around Sept/Oct 2017 and have been using a tripod since the workshop I attended in Jan 2018. Given the freezing cold weather, I didn’t really start practicing in earnest until the weather warmed up slightly towards the end of March (by which time I had to watch a lot of YouTube training as I’d forgotten a lot of the “finer details” of the workshop such as white balance).  The first tripod I bought was a CaseFlex – exactly like this one (https://www.caseflexaccessories.com/caseflex-premium-alloy-camera-tripod-pro-blue). It was and still is mostly a great little tripod but I took it to the beach one day and managed to get some sand or grit stuck in one of the twist locks and now cannot lock the lower part of one of the legs. I can still use it if I don’t need a lot of height but you do get what you pay for and this is a fairly lightweight tripod. I’d certainly recommend it for absolute beginners who only want to use it online and not in the sea or in rivers and when there is no wind. The legs are quite flimsy but if only the higher (thicker) parts of the legs are extended, and provided you’re happy to bend / sit down behind the camera, it’s fine.

The second tripod I bought is a Manfrotto Pixi Evo 2 which I bought for trip to Edinburgh when I didn’t want to take the CaseFlex. This tripod would be best described as a table topper – it’s fine for using with my Nikon D3400 and kit lens and fine with the Sigma zoom but I do notice that it slips a little with the latter. I have used it in the evenings, propping it onto of my camera bag, and it’s excellent for quick filter shots – I’ve enjoyed using it and it’s light enough not to even realise you’re carrying it but unless you’re happy to lie on the floor to take images, it’s no substitute for a regular tripod.

I’ve invested in a new tripod – it’s a Vanguard AltaPro 263 AB 100. This is a blindingly good beginner / amateur level tripod which is super stable and amazing good value for money. Unless the CaseFlex, which has twist lock legs in four sections, the Vanguard has flip locks and three sections which makes is a fair bit taller when collapsed than the CaseFlex – I’m not bothering measuring to get an accurate difference (it’s not that interesting a topic). The Vanguard is also quite a bit heavier: I think I could carry the CaseFlex attached to my camera bag (a LowePro Tahoe HP 150 in “Galaxy Blue” no less – https://store.lowepro.com/tahoe-bp-150) but pretty certain if I tried to attach the Vanguard, the mesh pocket would be destroyed. So, if I go on a hike (unlikely but who knows), I think I probably would take the CaseFlex – and/or possibly the Manfrotto as I imagine I’d be lying down anyways a fair bit.

Anyways, if anyone is interested in a sub-£150 tripod recommendation from a (GuruShots) veteran photographer (LOL), I don’t think you’d need to look much further than the Vanguard … hopefully it’ll be my tripod for a few years to come.

#GormanstonBeach # CountyLouth #Ireland #CaseFlex #Manfrotto #PixiEvo2 #Vanguard #AltaPro #Tripod #LoweProTahoe #GuruShotsVeteran #SpeedChallenge #Veteran

[June 2018]
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Solitude

I’ve submitted a late entry to the latest #GuruShots speed challenge – this one is entitled Solitude.

There are only around 77 hours to go before the challenge closes and only one photo (swaps allowed) can be submitted / displayed at one time. I’ve opted to submitted a photo I took a few weeks ago of a single tree in the Baltray dunes in Co Louth. This image achieved 1 like and of the 408 views had 246 votes so I’m hoping this speed challenge goes well. As ever, an update will be posted at the end of the challenge.

The image was taken on my Nikon D3400 and I focused up at the bottom third – the lens was the kit Nikkor 18-55 mm.

Lone Tree in Baltray_Vibrant

Update: It’s really interesting to see how other people express solitude in their images.  I think (at least I hope) I’ve conveyed this as simply  being alone. Many people have uploaded images that seems to focus on loneliness and a great deal of these images convey sadness. As I had a spare free swap,  I thought I’d switch the image of the above image of a tree for another one! :-)

Machu Picchu Tree

Taken in Machu Picchu, Peru, the mist rolling across the Andes moves quickly. It is thick, cold and very very damp and can completely blanket this small tree and even the large peak behind the citadel that seems to feature in approximately 90% of all images I’ve seen seen of this incredible UNESCO site. I didn’t walk along the Inca Trail – sheer madness – but took a bus up the side of the mountain after taking a long bus trip from the fantastic city of Cusco.

The image was taken on an ancient but loved FujuFilm FinePix F480.

The ‘Solitude’ Challenge ends in about 50 hours – I think this swap has already been successful but I’ll wait until the challenge comes to a close before posting more.

#GuruShots #MachuPicchu

Update: Delighted that I achieved 600 votes in total which resulted in an Elite ranking. Hurrah!

As ever some amazing Top 50 photographs on display but all those in the Top 40 (bar one which featured an image of a moose and another one of a yacht) had a very similar there. Generally there was a single figure standing in silhouette with their backs to the camera facing a sunrise or sunset. Interesting.

[April 2018]

Beginner Level Photography Checklist

As a novice photographer, and as someone who really wants to try and progress my skills, I am very happy to put in the hours to try to improve and learn. I’m watching a tonne of YouTube videos (probably too many tbh) uploaded by some fantastic photographers and was recently given my first landscape photography ‘coffee table’ book which I’ve already browsed and analysed multiple times. I bought a few magazines to browse through and take inspiration from – much of the information is a few levels above me at the moment but I’m actively seeking out images to review. This is why I’m enjoying #GuruShots so much also – it’s an opportunity to be exposed to some incredible shots and appreciate how (to the best of my current ability) the shot has been set up.

Importantly, I’ve been working to find time to practice at a practical level: with the weather being so poor in Ireland recently, I’ve entered a number of images in two GuruShots challenges where I could “get away with” taking photographs of objects I found in my home. The challenges in question were ‘Seeing Textures’ and ‘Musical Instruments’ – in the latter, I miraculously achieved a top 30% finish. As the weather has been clearing up a little of late, I’ve made time to get outdoors and practice.

However, I’m finding that I’m rushing and not using the practice time effectively. I’m either trying to create a good image between rain showers or while the dogs are racing around my tripod. Although it’s not real pressure, I’m hurrying my shots and I know I’m not achieving the best results. Also, because there is so much to consider even at this basic level, I’m forgetting some basic elements in a rush to capture a shot quickly before a bird moves or the sun dips behind the mass of cloud etc.

A couple of examples of my poor practice ….

Although I recent bought a Sigma 70-300 mm F4-5.6 DG Macro lens, in my haste to grab images for challenges, I didn’t even consider taking interior macro shots with anything other than my kit Nikkor 18-55 mm lens! What was I thinking?!? Oh, I yeah, I wasn’t. D’oh!

Also, last weekend, I trekked down to the wreck of the ‘Irish Trader’ that has been rotting and rusting slowly on Baltray Sands since 1974. The sea mist and tide were both coming in quickly and the results (one photograph shown below) are average to reasonable at best. I didn’t really consider the composition so the image looks like a heap of metal rather than an old ship. I’m thinking about composition at a basic level and didn’t really think about alternatives, e.g. a close up of the rust against the mist. I didn’t really check my white balance or consider the ND grad filter use carefully enough so the image is in my opinion the sky too dark and the colours a little unbalanced. The whole point of the exercise was to try and practice longer exposures, to try to get the streak of soft white lines when the waves pull back down the beach – I didn’t get to work on this because I was ‘working’ on other areas ineffectively and forgot about long exposures! Although I enjoyed the afternoon, from a practice point of view, it wasn’t the best.

Irish Trader Wreck Profile 8 April 2018

The Irish Trader | 9 April 2018

Incidentally, until recently the bow section (which has been slowly peeled back and which is the metal part resting in the front of the main part of the wreck) was intact and it used to stand a good 15 – 20 feet high. It highest point is probably now only about 8 – 10 feet high – it’s still worth a visit but if you search online for images of the wreck, there are some amazing photographs available to view.

On the back end of my ineffective practice, I’m putting together a checklist (which doesn’t include ‘take a deep breath’ but probably should) of what I need to consider on location. I’m not including basics like, has the camera battery got enough charge / power, have I remembered my tripod / filter bag etc. – my memory’s not great but it’s not that bad. Yet.

What I’m thinking about is a composition / technical checklist at a very basic level so I can better consider my shots before I take them – hopefully this will lead to better analysis, better results, improved learning and ultimately photographs that I’m really happy with.

This is my first draft – some ideas in no particular order:

  • What is the primary subject of the shot and how do I best emphasize this?
  • What is the background and how do I want to use this?
  • What would I like the final result to look like and how best can I achieve this?
  • Do I need to move around the subject / move to another location to help me get the best result.
  • Do I need to eliminate any objects that might detract from the shot? If so, how is the best way to do this? Do I move closer / further away from the subject or do I simply use the (correct) lens to zoom in / out?
  • Is the lens choice the best one? Would the telephoto lens’ depth of field help to accentuate the subject as I’m told on various YouTube videos?
  • What is the best height to shoot at? Do I really need to extend my tripod to full height – as I do habitually at the moment?
  • Do I need to use a filter / CPL? Why do I need to use a filter / CPL? If I really do, what should I use?
  • Have I checked the white balance?
  • Have I definitely checked the white balance?
  • Have I considered basic composition rules? For example: the rule of thirds, where to place the horizon, are there any leading lines I can utilize, are there key patterns and textures that I want to capture in the shot?
  • What are the alternatives shots? If I’m considering shooting a ship wreck, should I take a shot or two of the whole wreck, part of the wreck (e.g. the bow only) and/or a close up of the metal tarnished with sea weed?

As well as the above considerations, what I’m definitely going to do on my next trip is take my time – I’ll aim to get a couple of good photos from one of my favourite locations and focus on that. Also, I’ll build the image that I want and then reverse it, so, if I’ve decided that I want a wide landscape of the beach with the tide rolling in against the sea wall, I’ll find on element of interest in the shot, for example a point of interest on or around the sea wall, and take an intimate landscape shot focusing primarily of that single element. I’ll even change from colour to B&W to test the different outputs.

Anyways, the above is a basic checklist – if anyone happens across this post and can offer any input, I’d be very happy to hear from you.

When the weather is better, I’ll testout my checklist and my idea to take an ‘opposite’ shot and update on this site.

Surprise, surprise it’s forecast for rain again in Ireland this week.

[April 2018]

Seeing Textures

To celebrate my new Challenger status and to try to move forward to the Advanced level, I’ve submitted some images I took this evening. These are clockwise from top left:

  • Slippers
  • Guitar Case
  • 1970s Waffle Blanket
  • My dog, Trip – a close up!

GuruShots Textures

There are 11 days from this post until the challenge closes so we’ll wait to see what happens … I’ll try to take some ‘swap’ photos over the weekend. #GuruShots

Update: I decided to swap out the blue fluffy slipper image for one I took over the weekend in Baltray, Co Louth. I focused on the foreground to get clear definition of the straw-like grass. The photograph was taken on my Nikon D3400 (the settings were 1/800 sec | F5.3 | ISO 100) using my Nikkor 18-55 mm kit lens. I don’t think it’s a particularly successful image but hopefully conveys enough texture to be a positive swap in the challenge.

Lone Tree in Baltray

Lone Tree at Baltray

The sky remained a beautiful blue (first I’ve seen in Ireland all year tbh) for all of 45 minutes until a thick sea mist rolled in. I took advantage of the drama however to walk down to the ship wreck on the sands – not sure the photographs were all that successful but it was a great opportunity to practice with my ND grads. I have to remember I’m still learning so will be getting a lot of mixed results but onwards and upwards! If I want to get better, I just have to keep practicing.

Anyhoo, there are still 9 days to go for the ‘Seeing Textiles’ challenge and at this time, I’ve only 73 votes to go to move from Premier to Elite level. Hope this swap does the trick – we’ll see.

Update: So the challenge has ended and the swap did the trick! Managed an Elite ranking which I’m very happy about. Total number of votes were 1195. The images with the most votes (which I was a little surprised about) was the guitar case with 509 votes.  The waffle blanket achieved 252 votes, the tree (swap image) 246 and the close up of Trip 188 votes. I suspect however that this challenge resulted in one of the highest number of All Star ranking images: 5873 entrants managed to achieved this rank. Elite was the most populous ranking with 8795, Premier with 6154, Skilled with 1446 and Popular with 1033. Although the ranking was busy, I ranked # 105 in the Elite level. Amazingly, I need ‘only’ another 4 challenge rankings of Premier or above to move to the Advanced user category. I don’t feel at all ‘advanced’ in terms of my photography skills but this is after all a game and I’m enjoying the taking part!

[April 2018]

Bodies of Water

As a Speed Challenge, I can only display one image at a time but have submitted three views of the River Boyne which I can swap. From left to right, the images are:

  • View from the bank of the River Boyne at Baltray,  towards Drogheda at dusk
  • View of the River Boyne rowing boat from Mornington
  • View from of River Boyne fishing boats from Baltray
Bodies of Water

Bodies of Water Challenge

There are 91 hours for voting so let’s see how this challenge goes. Updates to follow soon.

Update: My swap (see image below) significantly boosted my votes and took me to Premier level which I’m really happy about. I’m getting the hang of the tactics for this game although I need to refine my tactics and obviously submit more decent / better photographs to improve my rankings further. Given that I’ve only had my DSLR, a Nikon D3400 (a beginner level digital camera but decent enough with its Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR kit lens) since September and haven’t really been able to use it thanks to the awful weather in Ireland, I’m looking forward to less rain so I can practice.  I want to get to grips with the technical elements of the camera and start taking some of those fancy long exposure seascapes in the very near future.

Importantly, I have moved levels up from Newbie to Rookie and I’m chuffed to bits about that. :-D

Clouds Over River Boyne

[April 2018]