A Study in Concentration

I was lucky enough to be at the Birmingham National Indoor Arena earlier this month to witness Andy Murray’s 5-set win over Kei Nishikori to wrap up the Davis Cup win over Japan. It was a long, long match and Andy won more by sheer effort of will than anything else. Nishikori was excellent and had the beating of Andy in most of the long rallies.


As is my wont at such events, I try to get some photos of the action. I was in the public viewing area but we had good seats and I get just enough reach with my Olympus OM-D and the 75-300mm which is the full frame equivalent of a 600m lens at the long end. The main challenge was, as ever, that the lens is not that fast and the indoor light levels were limited at the NIA (now called the Barclaycard Arena). I had to rack the ISO up to 6400 and set the shutter to 1/800. I could never have used that high an ISO with my old Sony A100 but with the OM-D that is perfectly usable, specially with the noise reduction available from recent versions of Adobe Lightroom.

I looked at pictures of Andy Murray on Flickr and they nearly all feature him pumping his fist, snarling or otherwise displaying emotion. Understandable but somewhat clichéd. Surprisingly few pictures of Andy actually playing tennis. The latter either failed to include the ball in the shot or had Andy at absolute full stretch. I wanted something different so I tried to capture the level of concentration he puts into his game.

In a similar vein…


The image below tries to capture both Andy’s depth of concentration and the power he winds up in preparation for a serve. I was surprised just how high he throws the ball.



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William Fox-Pitt Panned

 I am little obsessed with panning. Mainly because I find so hard to do. You know what I mean by panning, right? Where you follow a moving subject as you photograph it, in the hope that it will come out reasonably sharp while the background gets blurred thus creating a sense of movement and speed.

Mostly I’ve tried this technique out on racing cars but last Sunday decided, on a whim, to try it with horses. I was at the Chatsworth International Horse Trials with my wife and daughter. The ladies go for the love of equestrianism. I go to take pictures and try to improve my skills.

Anyhow, this is William Fox-Pitt on Cool Mountain.


I’m reasonably pleased with the result. I used a shutter speed of 1/60th which produced enough blurring of the background, and while William is not exactly tack sharp he is very noticeably sharper than the background so the panning effect works. Trying this at the water jump was probably a good idea because the arcs made by the moving water droplets add a certain something to the overall effect.


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A Stop too Far

 We had a little family trip to the FINA World Series Diving at the London Aquatics Centre yesterday. It was my daughter’s idea. She bought the tickets as a birthday treat for my wife who had enjoyed watching Tom Daley et al on TV competing at the Olympics two years ago.

I decided to try my hand at taking some photos of the diving. As an amateur, of course, from the public viewing area. No special access, no use of flash, no special equipment.

My attempt to update my camera failed a few weeks ago when I ordered an Olympus OM-D E-M10. The kit I received came with the wrong lens so I sent it back and have not yet sorted out re-ordering it. So I still had my old Sony A100, which suffers from some controls only working intermittently, and the 18-250 lens.

The latter provides reasonable reach on APS-C; the full frame equivalent of 375mm. But the maximum aperture is poor at F6.3. The enemy was always going to be insufficient light.

Ivan Garcia

Ivan Garcia

The solution was always going to be finding the best compromise, particularly between shutter speed and ISO setting. The sensor on the A100 belongs to a past era where even at ISO 400 you are starting to invite noise and I normally regard 800 as the absolute limit. In this case I had no option but to go for a very optimistic ISO 1600 in order to squeeze out a shutter speed of 1/640 s. I really wanted 1/1000 to freeze the action but was never going to get there.

It was very difficult to get usable shots given the light levels, my distance from the action and the limitations of the equipment. When I did get my RAW images into Lightroom I went straight to the noise reduction sliders, used a liberal dose and gritted my teeth.

Not a day for a bumper crop of great shots, but one or two made it worth the effort.


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Fill-flash sunset

 There is nothing magical about fill-flash. You just have to recognise when you are in a situation that needs it. Then it is just a matter of flipping up the built-in flash and proceeding as normal. Provided you have the fill-flash setting enabled, it will come into operation automatically when you raise the pop-up flash and your DSLR will (usually) do the right thing without your needing to worry too much about it.

A situation that calls for fill-flash is one where you want to use natural light but the light is coming from behind the subject, causing the  subject to come out too dark. With fill-flash operating, the background will still be lit by natural light, and the automatic exposure will be set accordingly, but the flash will also fire so that the combination of natural light and flash will result in the subject being properly exposed too.

An example from my recent cruise. Naomi was dressed up for the gala night and we went out onto our cabin’s balcony, which was facing out from the back of the ship, to see the sunset. I realised that by using fill-flash I could capture both Naomi and the sunset, with both correctly exposed. It does not always work perfectly but on this occasion I was very pleased with the result, aside from the fact that the horizon could have been straighter.


The reason fill-flash sometimes does not work properly has to do with the flash sync shutter speed. Assuming you are using Aperture Priority, as many photographers prefer to, the camera will set the shutter speed to expose the background correctly. But if the background is reasonably bright and the chosen aperture is too wide then the shutter speed needed to expose the background correctly could well be higher than the camera’s shutter sync speed. If the flash were to fire in conjunction with a high shutter speed the shutter would never be fully open and only a part of the subject (a strip) would be illuminated by the flash. Trying to use fill-flash in those circumstances would force the camera to reduce the shutter speed to the sync speed and probably overexpose the entire image.


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Mario B

 You would think that on returning from two weeks in Sorrento, Venice and a cruise around Italy, Greece, Turkey and Croatia I should have been able to fire up Lightroom and pick out loads of great shots from the trip. Frustratingly, the keeper rate has been very low. Maybe I am more critical than I used to be, and my standards have increased more quickly than my proficiency as a photographer.

That is not to say that the holiday was a complete wash-out photographically. There were some successes, and not always with the most obvious subject matter. There were plenty of pretty snapshots of the well-known sights in Venice, but the most striking image was of a tug boat shot from the water bus on the way from Marco Polo airport to our hotel.


Possibly shades of Turner’s Fighting Temeraire? No dramatic sunset, but at least my tug was belching some wonderful environmentally unfriendly black smoke which helped to fill in the top right of the picture. Counterbalances the green hull and introduces a suitably industrial element to the overall composition. Well, that’s my story anyway.


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Boca Still Life

 Every now and again I shoot an abstract or still life. Not with any kind of premeditation; sometimes the opportunity is just there.

This still life was taken in the La Boca district of Buenos Aires. It is a popular tourist attraction because of the Bohemian atmosphere, arts and crafts, outdoor lunch with  tango shows and the over-the-top brightly coloured buildings. I’m certain the distinctive look of the place started as a deliberate cultural statement by the local inhabitants, but it is now locked into that look, more as a museum to keep the tourists coming.


I’m not certain whether this counts as a great work of still life, probably not, but I do have a certain fondness for it. For a still life to be successful, it needs to keep things simple: don’t have too many shapes or colours, avoid confusing or distracting backgrounds, look for a composition which makes some kind of bold statement with a few simple shapes while creating a sense of balance. I think I managed to do that, bearing in mind that I had to take the subject matter as I found it. The bag (which belongs to my wife and was the only item we added into the scene) is neutral, everything else is red or green and the colours are reasonably well balanced. Background is half block of red, half block of green. The main shapes are either rectangles or triangles, from the spiral staircase. The foliage provides a diagonal to draw the eye towards the bag in the lower right foreground. It all seems to work and balance out. What a shame though I didn’t spot and remove that confounded empty plastic bottle!


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Unnatural Ushuaia

 Hard on the heels of Ollantaytambo Woman, this is another post showcasing my new-found sense of photographic liberation. Peter Krogh’s imaginative use of post-processing has left me far more open than before to the idea of letting rip with Lightroom to lift or rescue otherwise run of the mill or dull pictures. I wasn’t exactly shy with my use of Lightroom sliders before but I was previously always targeting a naturalistic looking picture.  In the main I will continue to do that, but will now be that tiny bit more open minded about more creative post-processing when the opportunity arises.  Certainly I will feel more at liberty to experiment, without going too mad.

This photo was taken in Ushuaia, Argentina. I haven’t changed the colours, other than dialling up the saturation slightly. Mostly, the look comes from boosting the shadows way beyond the normal limits.  It is not an HDR image.

I may have to revisit my previous statement about my style of photography. Not change it much, just extend to include the occasional indulgence in the post-processing phase.


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