After the snow – Snowdrops

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Snowdrops

In Ireland we get very little snow. In my life I could count on one hand the number of really big ‘snow events’ (snow remaining for more than 3 days). Our winter temperatures hover between -5 and +5 Celsius.

Last year it started to snow at the end of November and remained until the end of the year. On Christmas Day, as we drove home from midday Mass through the snow, the temperature was -11 Celsius. Many of the exotic plants we had accumulated over the years were killed by the low temperatures.

The appearance of the Snowdrops in January was a welcome sight. Those hardy little plants need no maintenance just the right place to live. Our little colony live on a North facing bank under old Ash trees. They like the dry shaded bank for their long summer sleep.

Two interesting things about the attached photo, the low angle of the shot and the narrow depth of field (blurred background). I recently got a new camera, Panasonic GH1, which has a screen which can be swiveled out to be viewed at any angle. I was able to take this photo with the camera on the ground and I looking down at the screen from above. I would have to lie down to look at the screen on my previous DSLR to get this shot. Swivel back screens are not ‘only a gimmic’ as I was told by a friend, a serious photographer. The GH1 also has a great video recording ability. The swivel screen is very useful for recording painting demos with the camera mounted on a tripod. You can monitor the video even when the camera has its back away from you.

The ‘blurring’ of the background isolates the foreground and creates an emphasis. This is achieved by having a lower aperture number than an automatic exposure would decide. Again the screen is great as you get a ‘live view’ as you make the changes to the exposure settings. Whether you are in semi or full program mode the camera will compensate by increasing the shutter speed to maintain correct exposure.

P.S. If you want to propagate your Snowdrops now is the time to do it. Unlike other spring bulbs you dig them up when the flowers have died back and the green leaves are still showing. Replant them in bunches.

The under / over exposure problems in photos

The eye is a marvelous piece of equipment. Working away making adjustments to the image in front of us without us even been aware of it. When we look at a sunset, with the naked eye, we see all parts of the scene in most cases. The iris closes when we look at the setting sun and clouds allowing us to appreciate the fantastic colours. The iris then opens when we lower our gaze and we see the details of the landscape.

Yet the limitations of photography over the last 100 years has established the representation of sunsets in photographs and even paintings as silhouettes against a brilliantly lit sky. We accept it without question.

Digital photography can change all this. We can now represent a sunset in a picture as we would see it in real life. It means a bit of work afterwards in the computer but its well within the scope of the amateur photographer.

Sunset, Inis Oir (the smallest of the Aran Islands off the coast of County Galway).
When photographing a scene which has a very bright part and a very dark part the camera’s automatic exposure control will compromise. For example, the sky will be slightly overexposed and the ground underexposed. If the photo is opened in Photoshop the ‘Highlight/Shadow’ control can correct this and it does a great job. But it can have the ‘digitally altered’ look which is OK most of the time and I suppose is a good ‘quick fix’.

This photo had a great sky which was ‘burnt out’ when I adjusted the camera’s exposure to show the details in the foreground. When I reduced the exposure to correctly expose the sky the ground was a black featureless mass.

The solution was to take 2 photos at almost the same time. One to correctly expose the sky and the other to correctly expose the ground. Take the 2 correctly exposed bits and fit them together. Simple, if  you have Photoshop or similar. Happily, there are loads of inexpensive applications available nowadays, because of the popularity of digital photography, that are capable of doing this.

If you give it a try, remember, as you will be a little out repositioning the scene after you adjust for the second shot take more of the scene than you want at the start (wider lens setting) with the intension of cropping back when finished.

Sandwich the 2 photos in Photoshop with the white sky photo on top. You can easily select this white sky bit with the magic wand tool. Delete the sky. The sky in the under photo will now be seen. Slide the upper photo around till the horizons match up. A little bit of fiddling around the edges might be needed.

P.S. Some of the more sophisticated cameras have a feature called ‘bracketing’. This allows you to specify a range of photos each side of the ‘correct exposure’. With this setting enabled, as you press the shutter the camera takes the photo at the ‘correct exposure’, then will continue to take photos at progressively darker and lighter exposures. Depending on your settings and camera you could have 3, 5 or 7 photos going from light to dark. In many cases this range is sufficient to allow you to have the best of 2 of these photos. The advantage of this is it all happens in 1 or 2 seconds without you having to made adjustments between the shots.