Monday, January 11, 2010


Almost bald!  That's probably the best way to describe the bird that appeared in the garden earlier.  We've redeployed a couple of plant pot bases as bird baths and they seem to be really appreciated.  This particular bird was having a fine time in the water but I didn't have long to get the shot.  When you're in a rush to take a picture it's amazing how long it takes to get the camera bag, extract the camera, line up the shot and shoot.  This was the only shot I managed before Spike flew away!

I can't decide if the bird had met with a cat earlier, has some sort of disease or it's mate just doesn't like feathers!  Any hints as to why Spike looks like he does would be much appreciated.

Well, here's an update from a Canadian friend with bird expert contacts.  Apparently the condition isn't that uncommon ...

In my own experience, this appears to occur (or at least is observed) more frequently in male blackbirds than in any other species, although also occasionally seen in corvids and in some finches ... male chaffinches in particular.

Normally feathers are moulted in a sequence, so that dropped feathers are replaced by new ones ... apart from appearing untidy for a while, there usually isn't any apparent 'baldness'.

However, sometimes ... and for a variety of reasons ... the normal moulting pattern can become suspended or arrested, such that when it resumes there is a rapid loss and replacement of the plumage. To the casual observer, this is much more noticable when it involves the feathers on the head and neck of a bird.
Because we work 'up-close and personal' with those birds that are in our long term care, I can vouch that the condition isn't caused by the presence of mites or any other exoparasite ... nor is it due to any apparent dietary deficiency (although those are quite possibly factors in some birds).
Since it appears to occur more often in male birds than in females, I suspect that some hormonal imbalance might be implicated.
In some birds that have exhibited this condition, all moults in successive years have occurred normally, so the fact that it has happenned once does not predispose that it will occur again in the same bird.

6am shot ... number three

I had it planned after yesterday morning in the City.  I'd been quite taken with the early morning light and the various lines and angles from the modern buildings that I'd decided my 6am shot today would be    close to where I took my shot of the plant in the concrete.  I knew where I was going ... but I'll say no more as I'll use this location for a future 6am shot!

The weather was not as I'd expected for my 6am shot at all, so the City shot was off.  It was pretty wet this morning so something else was required that didn't involve me getting too damp before work.  I liked the reflections on the road near to home, so my first shot was of house number 6.  I liked the glow from the street lamp, the curve of the road, the reflections on the wet road and the hint of blue on the early morning sky.  I didn't want to use a tripod - it was raining remember and I didn't want to be out any longer than absolutely necessary!  ISO 1600 let me shoot at f3.5 and 1/100sec.  It's a bit noisy in the sky, but I wasn't bothered about that.  Adds to the atmosphere ;-)

The second shot was taken from almost the same place as the first, but this time looking up the street.  Again, I was quite taken by the reflections on the wet road and pavement and the colours that aren't quite right first thing in the morning.

Shots taken it was back indoors, breakfast, bags packed and off to work.  On return from work this evening I noticed that I'd had the camera set to auto-bracketing which has resulted in some of my images coming uot a tad darker or lighter than they should.  Also the weather has improved since this morning ... it's now gloriously warm and sunny with a gentle breeze.  This just makes me think a 6pm shot may be easier to achieve both from being awake and favourable weather perspectives!

Sunday, January 10, 2010


What makes a good image, be it a photograph or a painting or something you see at the movies?  In the case of photographs, what is it that makes you wish you'd taken the shot?  What is it in the image that makes you wonder what was going on in the photographer's mind for them to think of the shot and then, configure their equipment in order to take the shot you see?

I've read numerous articles on the subject of composition, as, I dare say, have most other photography enthusiasts.  Golden ratio, rule of thirds, diagonal and triangle rules give ideas for the positioning of subjects within the frame.  How to expose for contrasty scenes and what can colour do to enhance ... or spoil ... your photograph.  Often you find the shot is missed as you process all this information in an attempt to get the perfect shot!  Perhaps you could correct poor composition with clever cropping and poor lighting with bracketing, and then a bit of HDR?  This may then allow you time to look for special image without being bogged down with all these "rules".

One gentleman, Johann Itten, suggested that it was contrast that made a good image.  Here's his list,

  • Point/Line
  • Area/Line
  • Plane/Volume
  • Area/Body
  • Large/Small
  • Line/Body
  • High/Low
  • Smooth/Rough
  • Long/Short
  • Hard/Soft
  • Broad/Narrow
  • Still/Moving
  • Thick/Thin
  • Light/Heavy
  • Light/Dark
  • Transparent/Opaque
  • Black/White
  • Continuous/Intermittent
  • Much/Little
  • Liquid/Solid
  • Straight/Curved
  • Sweet/Sour
  • Pointed/Blunt
  • Strong/Weak
  • Horizontal/Vertical
  • Loud/Soft
  • Diagonal/Circular
You might like to do an exercise working though the contrasts as did Ingrid Taylar.

Here's an image I took earlier today  - inspired really by the contrast between the hard, grey, man-made concrete and the soft, colourful natural plant growing in the cracks.  Does it work? Perhaps not :-(  However, if you think it does, is it because the brightest leaf is on an intersection of golden means?  Is it the diagonal lines from the right that lead you to the main subject, the plant?  Is it, perhaps, the contrasts in the image?

I'm in no way claiming to be expert here.  Just reflecting on the situation and jotting down a few thoughts.  You may have something to add and I'd encourage you to add these as comments to this post.

Here's some changes in response to comments ...

First a desaturate of the blue background

Second, a tighter crop on the plant.

Friday, January 8, 2010


Whilst at Karaka I took some shots of the weeds backlit by the sunlight.  I really liked the halo effect around the stems and the way the little hairs were illuminated.  I did not, however, manage to get a pleasing exposure with just the one image.  I could see the effect I was after, but the light on the weeds wasn't just right.

Three exposures of the weeds and an HDR blend led to the next image which introduced more depth and colour to the weed flowers, but introduced some rather disturbing bokeh in the background.  If you look at the first image you can make out some unpleasant circular hightlights, but these are amplified in the HDR process as is seen in the second image.

Final step was to add a bit of Gaussian blur to the background to enhance the blur.  This is what you see in the final image in this post.

So, after all this effort, was it worth it?  Perhaps not!  The first image looks pretty good really doesn't it?  What do you think?  Any preference or suggestions?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Improved sunsets?

Early evening down at Karaka, just a little south of Takanini and there was this glorious sunset.  I had my camera and took some photos.  Quite contrasty, and there was some lovely grass seed heads "glowing" in the setting sun's rays.  I took my shots and was keen to explore the use of HDR to bring a bit more drama into the shot ... but I wasn't happy.

The flare just didn't appear in the right place, I'd got some reflections off the lens filter giving a sort of inverted vignette, the incoming aircraft appeared nine times and then the grass was wandering all over the place.  Arggh!  Such a lovely scene and I'd blown it.

I sought advice about flare and was told to make the most of it.  I'd tried to minimise the effect of the flare in my sunset image and this resulted in my placing the sun pretty central to my picture.  I played with a couple of other images (drastic hdr and less so) but wasn't convinced I was creating pleasing images.
Last night I had another chance back down at Karaka.  Again, quite contrasty so I went with an HDR shot.  The grass heads looked pretty golden and I decided to go for composition and ignore what may happen with flare.  The result is as you see above.  Not convinced, I tried a few other shots.  Here's one that may be tad on the dark side, but I think it conveys the mood quite nicely.
I had a heap of fun, and even found a new location for future shots!  Bottle Top Bay was a little further down the road and gave great views across some water.

Did I learn anything?  Perhaps the following ...

  1. The main thing was take a tripod!  All my multi-image shots for HDR processing line up so much better than my original hand held effort.
  2. Be patient and don't rush to leave.  The light went through so many variations during our stay at the site.  Furthermore, as I experienced here, if I'd stayed a little later I would have managed a much better shot.
  3. Keep shooting and try things!  It's heaps easier to erase a flawed image than it is to capture it after the event.  Only by experimenting and trying new things will you learn.

I suppose really, the proof is in the images.  Do I think I'm expert?  Most certainly not ... but I'm having fun trying to get a good shot!  If you have any hints, tips or tricks that will help me in my endeavours, please let me know.

Monday, January 4, 2010

6am ... number two!

I awoke at 5am, and it was pretty dark.  Getting close to 6am it wasn't much better.  The weather has certainly changed as it's quite breezy and wet now.  Nevertheless, a 6am shot is required!  I'd decided to take a shot looking over Manukau City with the moody clouds and lights, but it was rather wet for me on my bike.  I'd decided to avoid waking the more sane members of the family who remained tucked up in bed.  Trying to open the garage door quietly was a mission and I reckon I made more noise avoiding the automatic garage opener than I would have done if I had.

Cycling to my intended lookout the rain started to come on a bit stronger.  A shot was required now before I got soaked.  Up a nearby street was a lamp post against which I could rest my trusty steed and get a shot.  6am, Hill Park, Manurewa.  One shot in the bag, but not what I wanted.

Back on the treadly and off to some local bush for a moody shot.  Still drizzling, and rather dark, so Plan B was canned in favour of a local historic building.  Sadly this really looked pretty grim as the light was so grey.  Off to the Botanical Gardens ... always a safe bet!

On the way I spotted an old water tower, so decided to take some shots of this.  It was pretty dark where I'd stopped ... mainly to avoid getting wet, but the tower had a mysterious look about it.  A quick shot at a high ISO first of all (I was happy to get a bit of noise as I felt this would add to the atmosphere of the shot and the camera doesn't do too badly at ISO 3200).

Did I mention it was damp, dark and I was in some bush?  You guessed it, home to hundreds of mosquitoes!  I was getting eaten alive by these little beasts.  Nine shots on the tripod so I could attempt an HDR shot at home, then I was off.  The rain was coming along a little stronger now as I raced home to sort out the bites and avoid getting too wet.  I have to say the bike makes quite a nice noise at speed with offroad tyres on tarmac!

So there you have it.  6am shot number two and I really did expend blood getting this one!

Saturday, January 2, 2010


The output from the Karangahake Gorge Gold Mines produced 60% of New Zealand's total gold production in 1909.  The area must have been buzzing.  Noisy and polluted.  Noisy as the Crown, Talisman, Woodstock and Victoria batteries pounded the quartz ore extracted from over 12000 meters of tunnels in the hillsides.  Polluted as they used cyanide to extract the gold from the ore as a more efficient technique to heating the ore prior to pounding.  This heating process apparently caused huge deforestation in the area.

Today the area is tranquil.  It seems very clean and green; clear waters with cormorants fishing in the river and only tourists and visitors to disturb the peace.

We'd decided to leave Auckland reasonably early, do the Windows Walk and the Karangahake Tunnel Walk before midday when we thought it'd be quite warm.  The Windows Walk follows a tramway into the hillside that is crossed periodically with cross-cut tunnels.  It is these crossing tunnels that make the windows that look out over the gorge.

These views can be quite spectacular.  Hard to imagine these tunnels were once alive with the clatter of horses pulling wagons full of quartz ore and miners drilling through the rock of the hillside as they searched for gold.  I wondered whether the workmen ever had time to admire the views as we do now.  I suspect not.  From the picture to the left you can see another pathway cut into the hillside.  I understand this track also was used to transport ore to the batteries.  Sadly this track was closed when we visited, so we had to return the way we came ... back through the Windows Walk.

On returning to the Karangahake Reserve we followed the river upstream towards Waihi to meet the old railway.  The tunnel is just over a kilometre long, is illuminated, but you'd be advised to take a torch.  The image alongside is from this walkway and shows some of the strange clouds ... almost like an inverted vapour trail.

I was using my 18-200mm lens, but just couldn't get all the scene I wanted at the widest setting and those clouds were quite special.  I took nine shots and used Hugin to stitch them together.  You can see the image here.  Unfortunately, the clouds are pretty blown out, but I didn't really know what to do.  Suggestions are more than welcome!  I scanned the image, set my exposure for the river and trees and then shot the scene on manual.  I thought I'd get a better stitch if I had a consistent exposure throughout my nine images.  However, as the sun was so bright it did mean that some of the clouds were blown away.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!

First post of the new year, and what a start to 2010.  The idea was for photo enthusiasts to take a picture just ten minutes before midnight to show the preparations for the start of the New Year celebrations.  A flickr group was created for people to post their images and twitter was used to publicise the event.  Close to twenty people joined the group and some even managed to stay awake long enough to take a photo and then submit it to the group.  My effort is the photograph above.  I went over to Devonport on Auckland's North Shore to watch the New Year's fireworks that were to be set off Skytower.  The folks in the picture are getting ready to the show; pointing their camera at Skytower in the distance.

Getting there was easy, but it was busy.  Getting home was even worse!  I think people had staggered their arrival times, but not their departure times!  Arggh!!  Not the best start to 2010 to be stuck in a traffic jam!

I wasn't sure what to do with the images.  What exposure to pick?  I decided to go handheld for the first image and selected ISO 3200 in an attempt to reduce shake!  It's a bit grainy, but I think this adds to the effect really.  We used to use film grain to enhance the image if memory serves me!  Anyway, for shots of the fireworks I decided a lower ISO and a tripod were the order of the day.  ISO 200 and f8 and I let the camera select the shutter speed.  I was hoping for something in the order of a second or two to capture the star effects of the fireworks.  The second image in the post is again just prior to midnight as I tested the exposure of the city.  I decided to get the exposure right for the city lights and use this for the fireworks.

Well, that was the plan, but it was well past my bedtime and the camera was set to Aperture Priority so the camera selected the shutter speed all by itself!  Not too bad though?  The image to the above is one of my attempts.  The main problem I was having was camera shake ... that old Bilora tripod need replacing!  If you have any tips or tricks for taking firework images, please let me know!  Next year I'll do a better job.

Fireworks over it was time to head home and upload the photographs to the flickr group.  Check it out, there's some great shots in there.