18 September 2011

Looking for Canola

I've just had a holiday and it was just what I needed. It gave me the time to go for long drives on my own (I love the solitude), provided an incentive to visit friends, and made me want to take photos. I clearly need the emotional space to be able to work on my photography.

It's also springtime which means apple and cherry blossoms are out in bloom creating a wonderful splash of colour - often in unusual places. It's also the start of the canola season and two of the places I visited - Parkes and Harden - are canola growing areas. In fact, my trip to Harden was a scouting trip for a later visit when the canola is fully out (sometime in early October).

But there were enough fields that had been sown early with canola to get me photographically exited. Here are a few of the canola images that grabbed my attention:
Tanks in canola, McMahons Reef
I just love the contrasts going on here:
  • Colour: yellow and blue; yellow and black
  • Worlds: natural and man-made
and I also really like the geometric nature of the image: lines, shapes, centred objects, half-frame.

Hard and soft, Galong
This photo is a "challenging" image. The bright yellow canola cries out for attention. Your eyes are naturally drawn to it - it's in the centre of the image and it's the brightest part of the image. But you then discover that it's blurred! So you go looking for something in focus - it isn't the tree line which stands out against the blue sky - and you finally arrive at the stones at the bottom of the image. But they aren't the brightest part of the image, so your eyes start wandering all over the image again. I love the effect and the concept of the image (soft/hard, grey/yellow/blue, lines, sharp/blurred), but there's no rest in this one.

Grey and yellow, Alectown
This one is so moody, not to mention the wonderful colour contrast (grey/yellow).

Talking about moody, here's a photo I took of the Wallerawang Power Station. I took it knowing that I was going to make it dark and then bring out the cooling tower and smoke stacks. So, yes, I've played around with this photo and this is not what it really looked like.
Dark power, Wallerawang
The final picture I want to share with you is a quintessential spring image - cherry blossoms. This was taken in the Wisteria Garden, in Parramatta Park.
Cherry blossom 2, Parramatta
You can see all the photos I took during my holidays (the 20 I kept out of about 700), in the Nature/Coastal, Nature/Souther Highlands, Nature/Various, and Nature/West galleries. Of course, you can also see them all in the Recent gallery.

17 July 2011

Sydney Winter

We've had a fairly long period of cold, dry days this winter. Morning temperatures in the west of Sydney, where I live, have hovered close to freezing (0°C) just before dawn. I decided to take advantage of the clear and colourful dawn skies to photograph the city skyline.
There's a road that runs across the top of a ridge from which you get an unobstructed view of the city. This is about 30 km as the crow flies. I haven't found any other place that gives me a clear view of the city skyline. If you know of other places, then I'd love you to drop me a line. I've been in buildings in Burwood that have a great view of the city, but they aren't generally accessible.
My first photos looked OK, but I was rather disappointed to find out that they were out of focus! This is a mistake I don't often make nowadays. I was using a 2x teleconverter on my 200mm lens and I thought I had either badly missed the hyperfocal point (about 700m) or the morning breeze was stronger than I thought.
So I went back a second day, made sure I focused on the city buildings themselves and stood below the ridge line to avoid any interference from the morning breeze.
And I still had blurred buildings!
On closer inspection, I realised that I was seeing blurring caused by temperature variations, not poor focussing! The changing air density and long distance was causing a shimmering effect similar to what you get on hot summer days. The way I picked this up was by noticing changes in the building outlines as I looked at photos taken within a few seconds of each other.
So I've accepted that the atmospheric conditions and large magnification (an effective lens size of 600mm) can cause blurring.
Here are the photos I've kept from the two sessions.
Sydney Dawn 1
What I like about this photo is the colour range you get going from blue, through green to orange and red. I'm always amazed to find green in the sky, which only happens for a short time during dawn and dusk.

This landscape image has a simpler colour palette:
Sydney Dawn 2
Here's a snippet of the fully magnified image of the Sydney Tower showing the blurring:

You can see some other recent photos taken in Sydney in the City gallery.

25 April 2011

Adelaide Trip

I drove down to Adelaide - actually, it was Victor Harbor but with a stop-over in Adelaide - to visit family. I just love the solitude and peacefulness of long distance driving. I would far rather have the pleasure of driving thousands of kilometres on my own than catching a plane.

Hay Plains

I decided to break the journey at Mildura, just across the border in Victoria. It's 1,000 km from Sydney and I wanted to see, again, if I could do it on one tank of fuel. I came awfully close, but the lack of petrol stations between Eunston (the last town before Mildura) meant that I wasn't prepared to risk running out just before getting to Mildura. So I filled up after 950km.
Clouds, Hay
I won't pretend that the drive is inspiring - it isn't. The road is flat for more than 700 km (Wagga Wagga in NSW to Renmark in South Australia). But you do get lots of sky.

Overtaking is a breeze on this road. You just keep travelling at your normal speed, move over to the other side of the road and wait until you are past the slower car before pulling over again. You have lots of time to do this and can see oncoming traffic for miles before they get to you.


The border between New South Wales and Victoria follows the Murray River. I discovered that the Ranfurly Bend, just a couple of clicks (kms) out of Mildura is a good spot for taking photos of sunrise on the river. Reviewing some of the photos I took the next morning, I realised that I wanted to get one of the river gums standing out against the dark background. I had to wait until my return trip to get the photo I wanted. I love the moodiness of the lighter tree trunks against the shadowy darkness.
Murray Gums 2, Mildura

Victor Harbor

I staid the next night in Adelaide at my niece's place. I also dropped in on my nephew and we talked photography (he has a Canon 7D and I'm jealous). His wife patiently put up with us talking shop - he takes great portraits (see the links on his blog). My niece and I went out for dinner at Semaphore and walked on the wonderfully long pier, saw dolphins, a pelican close up, and a full moon rising just as the sun set. And I didn't take any photos - it's sometimes best to just enjoy the beauty without trying to capture it!

I spent the next three days in Victor Harbor with my mother, sister, and brother-in-law. Victor Harbor is a beautiful place. It's right on the water, with a harbour surrounded by hills, a headland where you can see both sunrise and sunset, and islands in the harbour.

I never got to take any sunset photos, but sunrise on one of the mornings was just to my liking. I was captivated by the bright reflection off the water with Granite Island in the background.
Gold Granite Island, Victor Harbor

Home Again

I then did the trip in reverse. The weather was great for driving, but not that good for photos. I was hoping to take some of the trees standing in the Murray River at Renmark, but the grey overcast sky put paid to that.

I also had a late start the next day from Mildura as I was up taking photos of the trees at dawn (the one I showed you above). But this meant I was in Goulburn for dinner (McDonalds) and sunset. The combination of some light cloud and contrails (condensation trails from jets) created an interesting image.
Pink Streaks, Goulburn
I arrived home 8 days after I left, having done over 3,000 km. You can catch all the photos in the South West Plains and Victor Harbor galleries (or just browse the Recent gallery).

03 April 2011

Mt Victoria Sunset

I went for a drive out to Mt Wilson last weekend. It's a little town in the Blue Mountains and is famous for wonderful autumn colours. Unlike the rest of the Blue Mountains, which generally has gum trees, Mt Wilson has lots of trees that change colour during autumn (or "fall" for you Americans). I go up there on a regular basis during autumn to see if the colours have changed and this trip was my first visit this year.

Because we haven't had any cold snaps yet, the colours were still mainly green. But it was nice to go for a drive.

On my way home via Mt Victoria, a place I love for the the two small coffee shops, I realised that there might be a very interesting sunset. There had been heavy, dark storm clouds all day but, out to the west, there was a small gap in the clouds just above the horizon.

As I drove along the Darling Causeway - the road you take when driving between Mt Vic to Mt Wilson - I kept looking for good viewing spots. Even though the road runs along a ridge, you'd be surprised how few places there are with a clear look out west. I eventually found a place near to Mt Victoria.

I quickly set up my tripod and started taking photos. I started using my 70-200 mm telephoto lens but, because the gap in the clouds was quite narrow, I then added the 2x teleconverter. The sunset turned out to be stunning and the quality of the light quickly changed as the sun dropped from the edge of the cloud cover down over the horizon. I was really excited about the photos I was getting and couldn't wait to get home to see them on the large screen.

I ended up keeping four (out of 75) images, which is about normal for me. I had troubles with editing two of the photos. I kept changing my mind as to what I wanted from them and it's taken me all week to finally settle on the look I liked best.

This is my favourite image and the one that's caused me most grief in terms of editing. I needed a balance between the softness of the sidelight and still bring out the stunning colours. It took me a while to get the colours right (too saturated and you lose the soft feeling, not enough saturation and it looks washed out).
Sidelight, Mt Victoria

My other favourite (I have difficulty choosing between it and Sidelight) is this one. I hardly had to do any editing on it.
Gold, Mt Victoria

You can catch all of them in the Blue Mountains gallery.

20 March 2011


We had a stunning sunset - no, that's not quite true - we had a wonderfully varied sunset last Sunday. There were lots of different cloud layers and the sun was lighting them up differently as it sunk to the horizon. This created a constant shifting in colour and light.

It started off with a general pale yellow glowing of the sky and it was this that grabbed my attention. So I took my camera out into the front yard and started taking photos of different parts of the sky. Whilst (I love using this word!) the sky as a whole was beautiful, colourful, and varied, I chose to take photos of smaller segments. I often find that the big picture looks wonderful when you're looking at it, but it doesn't work well as a photo. And the reason for that is that I find myself looking at lots of different parts of the sky and then aggregating these pieces to give me the full picture. With a photo, that's a lot harder to do. Especially if you have power lines, roof lines, and trees "messing" things up.

I took over 40 images, which I finally pared down to four. Here's a sample of the photos I took (not the ones I kept). Even though the sky was fascinating, most of the photos didn't translate what I saw into something that works when seen in isolation.

But I like playing around with my photos nowadays to see what different settings do to them. So I pushed the blacks, increased contrast, added more saturation (see my previous post Photo Editing). I nearly kept this photo, but felt that the "dragon" was too obvious and would stop people from seeing this as an image of wonderful clouds.
Fire-breathing Dragon
With images that don't have a clearly obvious subject matter, I'll often rotate the image to see if the change in orientation brings out the colours and lines more strongly. When I rotated some of the images they ceased being clouds and looked like the earth viewed from outer space with fire raining down on it (hence the title of this post).
Given the terrible events that have affected this region (Asia-Pacific) in the last few months - floods in Australia, destructive earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan - I felt that these images were reflective of the devastation visited on our planet.
Earth Wars 2, Blacktown
You can see the other two images that form this trilogy by clicking on the one above, or by visiting the Art gallery.

But I can't leave you in such a depressing mood, so here's a more traditional view of sunset clouds, also taken at the same time.
Evening storm clouds, Blacktown
There's a couple of other new photos that I've added and you can see all of them by visiting the Recent gallery.

17 March 2011

Photo Editing

What do I do with my photos after I've taken them? What's my general approach to processing?

The first thing to know is that I shoot RAW and I frequently “shoot to the right”. In other words, I deliberately overexpose the image to get as much information as possible. I make sure the histogram is as far to the right as possible without overexposing (clipping) the highlights.

Next, for my editing, I use Adobe Lightroom 3.0 (LR). While I have Photoshop CS installed, I hardly ever use it because I find LR gives me all the tools I need. Note, if you don't have Lightroom, you can still follow what I'm doing in Photoshop because Camera Raw is the common engine in both Lightroom and Photoshop.

When I import my photos I apply a medium level contrast level curve which I’ve modified to add more contrast in the mid-tones by increasing the steepness of the curve.

I also use, what I think used to be, a common import setting for blacks, brightness, and contrast.

I’ll then try the Auto tone setting just to see what it looks like. What it does is essentially:
  • Set the black point by increasing the Blacks until the LHS of the histogram starts to clip
  • Increase exposure (or decrease exposure and add Recovery) until the RHS of the histogram starts to clip
  • Adjust Brightness to suit.

Next, I’ll add Noise Reduction because I find that, even at 100 ISO, I get noticeable noise since I often shoot in low light conditions.

After that I’ll add a bit of Punch (a predefined setting in LR):

Then I’ll play around with the White Balance to see what I like best. I’m a sucker for reds and yellows, so I’ll often increase the WB.

Finally, I’ll probably add more mid-tone contrast (this is what makes things “pop”). I’ll typically push Lights and Darks to 50 (+/- respectively).

I’ll also play around with Clarity (which is all about local contrast) as this adds more texture (increase) or softness (decrease, especially if combined with low sharpness). I may fiddle around with local adjustment depending on the image, but that’s basically it in a nutshell.

I found David duChemin’s book Vision and Voice to be an excellent reference on the effective use of Lightroom – all about what you are looking for in the image and not just a technical manual. I strongly recommend it.



23 February 2011


An aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident.

I spent a very pleasant day with friends who live on the Central Coast (just north of Sydney). Apart from the great conversations and food, I also took the opportunity to catch some snaps.

I normally take photos early morning/late evening because I love the colours and light and moodiness at that time. But, since I was driving up early in the afternoon, I decided to try something different. I was looking for colour against a plain background or some small colourful detail.

I was taking some photos of white sailing boats against dark green hills and dark blue water when I saw a couple take out their small, brightly-coloured sailing boat. This was exactly what I was looking for.

Flying colours, Koolewong

I also found an old dinghy tied up to some mooring posts besides an old boat. I couldn't resist the colours, reflections, and the lazy, laid-back feeling (see Mooring Post, Empire Bay). My wife commented, "You love those posts, don't you!" I guess she's right as I frequently take photos of mooring posts - I love the simplicity and the guaranteed reflection in the water.

I had had a wonderful meal with my friends at Yum Yum Eatery in Hardys Bay (No, I'm not being paid for this endorsement), even though I was constantly checking to see if there were any good photo opportunities. I sometimes find it hard to to the "photographer" off.

The following morning I was up before dawn in order to drive to Terrigal - I just love the place - for pre-dawn photos. The sky finally played its part and produced wonderful colours.

Abstract Dawn, Terrigal

But the photo of the weekend was an accident. I was editing all the photos I'd taken and applied the changes from one photo to another with a surprising result:

The Sentinel, Terrigal

I am amazed at how a simple set of changes (high Black setting and a high White Balance temperature) could create such a difference.

Here's the original for comparison:

It was a wonderfully productive photographic weekend. But above all, it was serendipitous - I could not have planned for the sailing boat or my "mistake".

You can catch all the new photos in the following galleries:
Or you can see them all in Recent and All. Enjoy!

06 February 2011

Terrigal changes

Sorry (not!) about the terrible pun in the title ("terrible changes").


  1. I've put this blog under the same address as the web site. So the address is now blog.Gracious-Light.com. This keeps the photos and blog as effectively one site.
  2. You can get to the photos, the Facebook page, and the home page of the blog from the links on the right-hand side. Also, you can get to the photos by clicking on the "Gracious-Light.com" title.
  3. I've added a page (see the tabs under the "Gracious-Light.com" title at the top of the page) for my gear. I moved the post on this topic to a page so that it's easier to get to.
  4. !!Important!! I'll be stopping the email advices. So you must sign up to the Email Subscription on the left-hand side of the blog to continue getting updates.


(See Coastal and Art galleries)
I visited Terrigal again, specifically to take more wave shots. This time I had my 2x teleconverter with me, so I could keep my distance from the rock ledge. Which was just as well as the tide was up and I ended up standing in water up to my ankles.

You may be asking "Is that what the waves actually looked like?" The answer is "No". I've increased the saturation on the photos to bring out the colours. Wave 6 is quite close to what I saw, but the others are a lot more colourful in my versions.
Wave 6, Terrigal
I also changed Under Water quite a bit to give it the feeling of being underwater, which is why it's also in the Art gallery.

I fell in love with the reflections (1-, 2-, 3-Cracked reflection) and decided they worked best as a set of three. Note, they are actually all the same photo, but with different white balance settings and rotated.

Train lines

I went to work earlier than usual one morning and was taken by the train lines and overhead wires reflecting the summer sun at sunrise. So I went back to the station the next clear morning and took this photo. I'm constantly surprised by the occasional beauty of things that at other times are simply plain and messy.

Dawn Tracks, Blacktown

27 January 2011

How are Gracious-Light the site, blog, and Facebook pages related?

I was asked how I saw my blog and Facebook sites working (thanks, Dave, great question!)

Here's what I had in mind:
1. Gracious-Light.com (http://www.gracious-light.com/ which is hosted by Smugmug) is the gallery and sales room for my photography. It's the place where you'll find all my photos that I think are good enough to be saleable.

2. The Gracious-Light.com blog (http://blog.gracious-light.com/ which is hosted by Blogger) is where I'll provide articles about photos I've added to G-L (that's Gracious-Light, in case you hadn't worked out). It's where I'll also share information about my photographic journey, information about things I've learned, details on how I process photos, my views on my photography and my art, and so on.
I think of this as the forum for more in-depth and formal discussion about the work I do in Gracious-Light.

3. The Gracious-Light Facebook page (
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Gracious-Lightcom/136556413075627) is where I'd like to have informal conversations about my photos, where you can tell me what you think, where you can ask questions, and so on.
I think of this as the chat over coffee.
Note: This post is also available as a discussion topic in the Gracious-Light.com Facebook page.

4. Finally, my personal Facebook page is where I keep in touch with friends and family. All the wonderful, personal, and newsy stuff. This is "personal", whereas the Gracious-light sites (gallery, blog, and Facebook) are part of a world of photography with, hopefully, a business context.

Now, given that I'm new to Facebook and all of these means of keeping in touch, it may not all work out the way I had envisaged it.

So, if you have any ideas on how to make this work better, I'd love to hear from you.

26 January 2011


I finally succumbed to using Facebook. You'll find both my personal profile there, as well as a page for Gracious-Light. I'll try to post information there that doesn't need a full blog post.

You can link to the Facebook page either from Gracious-Light.com or by clicking on the Facebook button on the right hand side of this blog.

Let me know what you think by leaving comments on Facebook.

05 January 2011


I've created a new gallery in Gracious-Light called Art. I've discovered that occasionally I like to push the limits in editing my photos to change the feel of the image. In the past, I've done things like using extreme white balance settings (see Golden Rock Pool, Terrigal in Nature/Coastal). But this time I've gone further. I especially like the softness produced by using a negative Clarity setting in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom (and Adobe Camera Raw) combined with highly saturated colours.

What I like about the combination is the feel of the resulting image. It's all about colour and shape/form, and less about the object photographed. I realise that this isn't everybody's cup of tea, so I won't be at all offended if you don't like the result.

Here is an example of a before-and-after comparison:


Colour bleed, Wattamolla
So, tell me what you think of these images.

Summer Holidays!

I love summer - the bright sunlight, the hot wind, the deep blue skies, the sound of cicadas - it's definitely my favourite season.
It is also the time for holidays and, for me, this means opportunities to take photos. With sunrise being so early in summer (5:30 am), I have to get up very early (around 3:30 am!) to grab a cup of coffee and drive to my destination so that I'm there one hour before sun-up.

Darling Harbour

My first destination was Darling Harbour. The weather at the beginning of the holidays was rather overcast which meant that taking photos of the lights reflected in the still waters is a perfect way to get colour on dull, cloudy days.

(See Abstract Reflections and Flag Reflection in Abstract and Design)

Royal National Park

Next, I discovered some "new" sites, thanks to the Free Photo Guides Australia. I haven't been to the Royal National Park for years and years. So I decided to re-visit Bundeena, Wattamolla, and Garie Beach. They are all lovely places and the drive to Bundeena is also beautiful at this time of the year.
I was especially taken with Graham Grocott's photo of early morning beach fishermen (see his article on the Royal National Park):

© Graham Grocott
The seas were a lot quieter when I was there, but the sky made up for it by being dramatic:


My last destination was Armidale. I visited my close and long-time friends Steve and Joy. The trip was simply an opportunity to catch up as well as going on a long drive. I love the solitude of long distance driving. I took my camera "just in case" and ended up taking 350 photos over two days, which is a lot for me. Just as well that I had a spare memory card because I filled up my main 4GB card!

I took a number of photos at Dangars Lagoon at Uralla, just south of Armidale, because I love reflections in water. The Armidale weather also played its part by providing a foggy morning - one of my favourite weather conditions. Whilst I generally take photos during dawn and dusk, I drove out during the day to Guyra and revisited the Gara River crossing on the Guyra-Ebor Road. It was amazing to see the difference a wet summer makes compared to a dry winter (see Gara River, Guyra and Autumn poplar, Guyra).