Polar Centenary

Zodiac Traversing a Glacier Face in Neko Harbour, Antarctica  

I woke up too late to the fact that yesterday was the 100th anniversary of Roald Amundsen's victory in his race with Robert Scott to be the first man at the South Pole. 14 December 1911. Poor old Amundsen. He seems to be an unsung hero in the English-speaking world, where we pay far more attention to Captain Scott's tragic failure, so much so that we forget Amundsen was there first. Amundsen travelled to the pole and back in about the same time it took Scott to get there, beating him by 5 weeks. I suppose Amundsen's problem is that, while he did something that was ridiculously dangerous and hard, he really just made it all seem a Bit Too Easy, by just getting on and doing it in a determined, Nordic sort of way. No drama, no fuss. There's a message to all of us in there: whenever you do anything, never make it look too easy.

To celebrate the polar centenary and to somehow insert myself into such esteemed company, here is a shot I took to show the wall of ice that hampered my own assault on the pole. That, and oh, maybe another 3000 odd kilometers of similar landscape. And this is what it looks like in summer! I confess I didn't make it any further than the Zodiac in the picture before scarpering back to the boat for a stiff single malt.

I don't know if it's just me, but I always feel terribly sorry for the polar explorers of a century ago, that they didn't have all the really cool kit we get to buy now. Their sleeping bags were basically reindeer turned inside out. Not so comfy.

It's just a jump to the left ...

Clifton Beach and Lions Head, Cape Town ... and another jump to the left. Or a skip if you prefer. If you got that right, you should now be facing 180 degrees from the view of the Twelve Apostles that I posted recently. I promised the about-face view and here it is. Pretty awesome, huh?

This view takes in the magnificent beaches of Clifton, numbered First through Fourth Beach, with Clifton Fourth being closest to the camera, and Lion's Head in the background. At full moon you will see dozens of torches marking the route up Lion's Head as hikers head up for a night time view. The Clifton water is very, very cold, and can drop below 10 degrees Celsius ... come mid-winter the crazies gather here for the annual Polar Bear Swim. You would probably want to be our local human polar bear, Lewis Gordon Pugh, to really enjoy swimming here for more than a rapid squeal-inducing and instantly-numbing dip.

This photo, and the Twelve Apostles view, were both taken quite a few months ago, in the middle of winter on an unseasonably pleasant day. Now that summer has arrived and one would expect, nay, demand, that the weather be perfect, it is no longer cooperating at all, and I feel I must have wronged it somehow.

Every recent opportunity to spend the evening after work in this exact location has been thwarted by gale force winds. We've had barely minutes to contemplate the five sand-blasted nutters on the beach, and lone sad yacht with mast at 45 degrees, before conceding defeat and doing a runner back home for Star Wars and pizza. Perhaps a weather dance is required? Or the sacrifice of some G&T?

But I live in hope of better weather, and more chance to photograph here without having to lash down the tripod with all the tow-rope and industrial epoxy I can muster from my boot.


Before and After

This gives a great indication of how HDR can really get stuck into those under-exposed shadow areas and reveal all the detail and texture hiding in there. This was a three exposure bracket at -2, 0 and +2 exposure settings, combined later in Photomatix. The shots were taken just after sunset, during that blue hour when colours deepen and richen with the diminishing twilight. A tripod was essential with the low light conditions, and I used the lowest ISO possible to minimize sensor noise. Noise likes to accumulate most in the under-exposed parts of the image, and is amplified by HDR, so I keep the ISO set to 100, and applied noise reduction later to my preliminary HDR image as the first step of my post-processing workflow, using my personal favourite noise reduction Photoshop plugin, Nik Dfine 2.

[beforeafter]Clifton Beach and Lions Head, Cape TownClifton Beach and Lions Head, Cape Town[/beforeafter]

Bosphorus Dawn

Sunrise over the Bosphorus and Golden Horn, Istanbul, Turkey  

OK, confession time.

I'm not very good at getting up early. You can't persuade me to actually go to bed in the early hours, but by the same token, you can't get me up very easily either. Which is a pity, because look at this dawn light. All this spectacular light is just out there waiting for those crazy enough to get up that early. Which is usually other people. I took this shot at dawn on my third day in the strange and wonderful city of Istanbul, which meant getting up quite a bit earlier, wandering up to the newly found tram station, buying a tram token (called a jeton in Turkey) from the awesomely named Jeton-matik machine, remembering which direction the tram travels in and which station to get off, all while lugging my camera bag and tripod, and all before dawn. It was only the thought of breakfast and strong Turkish coffee that kept me going. But totally worth it!

This shot was taken from the Galata Bridge, where the Golden Horn meets the Bosphorus. This area is crazy with commuter ferries in the day, but was quite calm at this time. That's the Bosphorus Bridge in the background, which connects Europe with Asia. And that's Istanbul, one foot in Europe and one in Asia, one in the Roman Empire and one on some other planet entirely. It's an amazing place, and in some other life I'd be moving there. Or maybe this one, some day?


Before and After

I think this Before and After is really cool. All those crazy colours you see in the final version? They're all there in the before version, I haven't added any colours, but you can see that they do look a little pasty. The camera is seeing all the stuff that's there, but it's not doing a very good job of capturing it well. By taking a range of several bracketed exposures I have a sequence of images where each part of the scene is captured with optimal exposure in one of the images, capturing the light and colour as it should be, but just for that small portion of the image. Then all that remains, and this is the fun part, is to get the best parts from each image, combine them into one master image, and then amp the hell out of the colours and detail!

Don't even think of shooting in JPEG if you want to do this, you need to shoot in RAW. RAW files store just ridiculously more data and colour information than the equivalent JPEG would. Then multiply that amount of data by the number of bracketed shots you are combining in your HDR, and you get the vast amounts of recorded data for the scene that allows you to pull the best exposure and colour from every part of the image.

What I also like about this is that you can see the stunning things HDR can do with water, skies and reflections. The natural reflections in the water are turned really punchy, and the blown out detail in the sky is brought back. Those are the kind of things that can make an HDR image jump up, slap you in the face, and make you go 'woah!'

[beforeafter]Before version of Bosphorus DawnSunrise over the Bosphorus and Golden Horn, Istanbul, Turkey[/beforeafter]