And when the day arrives I’ll become the sky and I’ll become the sea and the sea will come to kiss me for I am going home. Nothing can stop me now” Trent Reznor
Ballydowane Cove is part of the copper coast UNESCO geopark in Co Waterford, Ireland. This section of the Irish coastline get its name for the mines along the coast which not only mined copper but also lead and silver.
I used a medium telephoto lens to isolate the sea stack with a 10 Stop ND and a 2 stop soft grad to get the shot. The photo is a 5 shot panoramic which I combined in PTgui pro to get the stitch. I had to be very careful when composing the shot to ensure a bit of the sea stack was in each frame to enable the stitching software to be able to do its magic. This is normally pretty simple but as you cannot see through a 10 stop ND filter I had to eye in each frame by looking over the top of the eye piece on the camera. You could take the filter off between each frame but this has the risk of knocking the focus ring or accidentally moving the zoom barrel. Both of these I managed to do when first trying to set up the shot requiring to take all the filters off and start again. Worse if you don’t realise you have done it.
I would normally just output the blended image from PTgui but for this shot I chose to have both the blended image and individual layers as a single PSD file. PTgui is great at aligning images but sometimes doesn’t blend as good as photoshop which was the case with the clouds in this pano. I opened the image in photoshop and then used auto-blend to blend the individual layers. The important step here is to select seamless tones and colours to adjust the color and tonality for blending. Once I had this new images I used layer masks to keep the sea from the PTgui pano and then bring in the sky from the photoshop blend. For comparison purposes, I used tried the same pano in photoshop using photomerge but ended up with a distinct curve in the horizon.
A few more shots from my visit to Baltray Beach in County Louth, Ireland all which were taken in and around the sand dunes.
For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.” – T.S. Eliot
I felt the above T.S. Eliot quite was very appropriate for the start of this blog post and to my world of photography which is constantly developing and growing.
Looking back at my year in photos I could not believe some of these photos were taken this year as they feel like a long long time ago. I have been very fortunate this year to have been able to visit 3 continents, 5 countries and 6 destinations and have loved to been able to document these journeys in photographs and on my blog. Travel is definitely inspirational to me and I am already looking forward and planning my trips for 2013.
If I had to pick one photo as a favourite it would have to be the black and white photo of Ballynafagh Church in my home county of Kildare, Ireland. This photo came out of a scouting trip but seems to have the greatest resonance over my blog and social network. Here are my 12 favourite photos from 2012 in chronological order.
“Then we said goodnight to Broadway giving it our best regards
Tipped our hats to Mister Cohen
Dear old Times Square’s favorite bard..” Thousands are Sailing, The Pogues
Farewell to Boston, welcome to New York.
To be precise, Rye in upstate New York where my brother, wife, Nephew of 5 years and Niece of nearly 3 years reside. Rye is only 50 mins on the train from Grand Central Station so was handy enough to commute into Manhattan to explore the city. My wife and I was lucky enough to have last visited New York in 2007 so the pressure was off in terms of the check list of the major sites. This left us free to explore the city and eat our way around manhattan at our leisure.
I found this blog post difficult to write. How do I bring a city so iconic and so familiar to people in a fresh and interesting way? How do I avoid falling into the same cliches as every other tourist visting the city? However, with that in mind I am going to start this post with a photo as cliched as you can get for New York – the Main Concourse of Grand Central Station. Type Grand Central Station into Google image search and you will see millions of version of this photo. Why am I posting it here then? It was on my photo bucket list.
The photo was tricky enough. Low light and no tripod. I wanted a slow enough shutter speed to blur the commuters busily making their way while keeping the tourists and other people standing around sharp. I ended up balancing the camera on the balcony rail and shooting six frames in portait orientation which I later combined into a panorama. I needed a ISO of 1600 at f/9.0 for a shutter speed of 1/5s. I converted the pano to black and white with a slight bluish tone in Lightroom.
The two aspects of New York that I will never get bored of in New York is the architecture and the food. Both are constantly changing and both are constants of the city.
Eating in NYC on this trip was a mixture of the old guard and the new guard. On the traditional side of the plate is Katz’s Delicatessen established in 1888 on the Lower East Side; famous for its roles in Harry Met Sally and Donnie Brasco but more importantly for its pastrami on rye. You don’t get pastrami like this in Ireland. Thick juicy cuts of tender cured beef stuffed between two slices of rye bread with a smothering of mustard and a side of pickle. Need I say more.
On the modern side of the plate, is Momofuku of which David Chang is the chef and founder of the restaurant group. Momofuku Ssäm is located in the East Village in a modern but unpretentious restaurant which we considered good value for lunch. We ordered to share the steamed pork buns followed by the rotisserie duck over rice set which consisted rotisseries duck stuff with sausage, rice with confit duck leg served with duck scallion, ssam sauce, crispy shallot, lettuce and chive pancake which we ordered with a side of spicy fingerling potatoes. The only way to eat this, as per the name of the restuarant, is form a ssäm using the lettuce leaves or the chive pancake. So good we ended up visiting momofuku ssäm twice for lunch over out trip. On our second visit, we also ordered the pulled duck bun and finished with the simple, but delicious mandarin orange creamsicle sherbet scoop.
Just over the road from is momofuku ssäm is David Chang’s Milk. Milk is a bakery serving your traditional snacks and drinks but with the David Chang playful twist. As with ssäm we visited Milk twice to make sure we got everything we wanted to try. First up a Cereal milk and nana nilla twisted soft serve ice cream and an expresso milk shake to be enjoyed in situ with a piece of the crack pie to go. The second visit we were more restrained and only had a chocolate chip cookie.
Our last main eating experience in NYC was at BLT Prime steak house. Our lasting memory of our last trip to NYC was the loaded baked potatoes. Soft fluffy potatoes stuffed with bacon, cheese, sour cream and chives. With this in mind we were always going to visit a steak house. We originally booked for BLT Steak, a sister restaurant of BLT prime, but mistakenly booked a week early with a wrong date. When we went to make a new reservation we discovered that BLT did not have loaded baked potatoes on the menu and we could not get a reservation at BLT prime which did do loaded potatoes. We ended up booking at the steak house from our trip in 2007 but were slightly disappointed due to the great reviews we had heard about BLT.
We were sitting supping on some sublime cocktails in Guilt, when through the power of my wife’s twitter account, BLT Prime responded to a tweet from my wife with an offer of a table. Delighted, we jumped on the subway and arrive a little early for a drink at the bar. The place was jammed to the rafters but we managed to get a table at the bar. In the end, we were very late in getting our table, but we could not complain given they squeezed us in on a desperate plee from ourselves and the staff looked after us very well. In addition to our steaks (NY Strip for me and a rib eye for my wife with loaded baked potatoes, creamed spinach and onion rings on the side) we were served their famous popovers (giant yorkshire puddings complete with the recipe!) and a delicious charcuterie board with pate. No exaggeration that the steaks were the best we had tasted and worth the extra money. A delicious charred crust with perfectly pink juicy meat inside. I soon forgot about the loaded baked potato, which as it happened was ok but had room for improvement. Stuffed, the staff still insisted us on bringing us a desert and petit fours to share. My wife had left overs steak for breakfast the next day!
All that food required a lot of walking around NYC and this is where my love of the city’s architecture kept me entertained and my camera busy. From the mixture of modern and iconic art deco skyscrapers of Midtown to the red brick buildings of Greenwich. There is something to look at around every corner.
It would not be Christmas in NYC if it was not for the Rockefeller Christmas Tree and ice rink. Similar to Grand Central, I wanted to capture the movement of the skaters but was also lucky there was a skated with a nice red jacket going slow enough to remain sharp. Just over 5th Avenue is St Patrick’s Cathedral which is currently encapsulated with scaffolding for major refurbishment works. Following on the Christmas theme, the cathedral was decorated with the nativity crib of which the angel was part of.
The final few photos are just a few shots from around the city.
“Farewell to New York City Boys, to Boston and PA…” The Body of an American, The Pogues
My recent lack of blog posts is not down to laziness but instead from a visit to the United States of America and in particular Boston and New York.
This was my first time in Boston and was immediately impressed with the city. It might not have the sights and icons of some of its counterparts in the USA, but the city to me felt instantly recognisable from the cities back home. Arriving late, we stopped locallyin Back Bay for a wonderful Mexican in the dark and moody Lolita Cocina. A spicy cucumber margarita and bourbon smash wetted our appetite for a feast of a trio of cerviches, three speciality guacamole (picante, crab and lobster and smoked pork belly), tuna tostada and garlic ribeye tacos. This feast sat aside an amuse-bouche of grapefruit granita set over a bowl of dry ice and laced with a shot of tequiella and sour apple popping candy cotton candy floss to finish.
On our first morning we woke to a light snow fall dusting the city street. We were staying in the Back Bay area of Boston and with our hotel near enough on Copley Square our first stop was the Boston Public Library. The main attraction of the library is the grand marbled entrance hall of the McKim Building leading to the main staircase guarded by by great twin lions, couchant, situated on pedestals on the return of the stairs. The staircase brings you up to the main reading room. Picture a library in your head and the long barrel vaulted reading room in Boston Public Library is what you would see. Members of the public stooped over rows of dark wood tables dimly lit by twin green table top reading lamps and enclosed of all sides by tall shelves of books of all ages.
The other main feature of the library is the courtyard providing a small place of escape from the bustling streets on Back Bay and Copley Square. Black steel table and chairs protected from the elements within an arcaded walkway provide respite to gaze at the plaza and bronze cast fountain statue.
From the warmth of the library back into the snow start exploring the city proper. What was soon to become is apparent is the size of the city. Boston is small compact city and with the sections of the city all within close walking distance. At the opposite end of Copely Square, is the small but pretty Trinity Church and the skyline dominating modern glass structure of the John Hancock Tower. Despite the 100 year difference, the two structures sit side by side in harmony; the blue tinted glass tower blending into the sky and reflecting the facade of the adjacent church.
Not far from Copley Sqaure, is the Boston Public Gardens and Boston Common; the green heart of the city. I first walked through the garden and commons in the snow and then two days later on a mild blue sky day and was presented with a completely different image of the gardens. This is reflected best in the photos below.
Boston Common is also the start of the Freedom Trail, a 2.5 mile walking route around Boston exploring the historical sites and people who shaped the history of Boston and the United States of America. The mid point walking tour is around Faneuil Hall which we decided was a good place to take a break from the tour and grab some lunch. Quincy Market, part of the Faneuil Hall Market Place, was our destination for lunch. A long market hall filled with 36 food vendors you were spoiled for choice. In the end, we decided on the Boston favourite of clam chowder and lobster rolls. I was a little uncertain on the food hall for such famous dishes from the region as it can sometimes be overpriced or lacking in quality. However, I was pleasantly surprised that the combo special (chowder, lobster roll and drink) from the Boston and Maine Fish Co. was of the highest quality and delicious.
Refuelled and a little bit of shopping later, we continued the trail, turning the corner to be faced with 6 glass chimneys. Knowing nothing about the installation and definitely intrigued, I wandered over to find out a bit more. I soon discovered that the installation was a memorial to the holocaust. The six tours are etched with six million numbers representing the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust and symbolising the tattoos the Nazis inflicted on many of the victims. Each tower is inscribed with one of the names of the six primary death camps complete with a metal grate covering a deep pit smoldering with coals. A fine smoke drifts up the grate and continues up the chimney. The most poignant aspect of the memorial is the voice given to the survivors and witnesses of the holocaust. Their words and memories etched into the glass of the towers telling of the horrors of the camps but also of acts of resistance.
Nothing belongs to us anymore.
They have taken away our clothes,
our shoes, even our hair.
If we speak, they will not listen to use.
And if they listen, they will not understand.
They have even taken away our names.
My number is 174517. I will carry the tattoo on my left arm until I die.”
Holocaust Survivor – inscription from the New England Holocaust Memorial
The next section of the trail took us up into the north end, home of the Paul Revere House, Copp’s Hill Burying Ground and Old North Church. The North End has a strong Italian-American population and is home to the wonderful Italian pastry shop Mike’s Pastry. I can strongly recommend the Amaretto cannoli and the Boston Creme Pie – amazing! We were back at the North End later the following day for the freshest platter of clams, oysters and crab at the tiny but atmospheric Neptune Oyster. I washed these down with a fantastic and aptly named ‘Whale’s Tale Pale Ale’ from Cisco Brewers in Nantucket.
Shopping was mainly undertaken on Newbury Street which ranges from your high end boutiques at the Boston Garden end before finishing with small basement cafes and smaller specialist shops. The highlight of Newbury Street is Georgetown Cupcake and particular the coconut topped snowball cupcake.
We spent a total of three nights in Boston which was just about right. We missed a few of the famous sites, but in all we felt ready to continue our journey onto New York. The mode of transport was by train and this took only three hours. I was quite impressed by Amtrak. The seats were big and comfy with plenty of leg room. We were also able to get the train at Back Bay station which was only a 10 minute walk from the hotel The journey itself was picturesque travelling down through the New England countryside and down the coastline. Some colour remained in the leaves on the ground and I can only imagine what this journey must be like in the height of the fall. Next up the Big Apple.
A weeks ago a wrote a blog post about my visit to Manor Kilbride to capture the autumn colours. As it happened, I was a few weeks early but last weekend I had the chance to revisit the area for a South Kildare Photography Club outing.
Returning to this beautiful part of Wicklow the timing was just about perfect for capturing autumn colours. This spot is well known by local photographers and it is no surprise that despite our early start we were beaten to the location by a small group of photographers from another local club. Not deterred, we patiently worked around each other respectful of each others framing. I started off further downstream than I wanted and then worked my way back upstream as the other club were finishing.
The Shankhill River, a tributary to the River Liffey, was full and fast flowing and gorged its way between the green moss covered rocks and orange carpeted banks. The morning light penetrated the overhead canopy illuminating spots of lights on the banks and tree trunks and providing glimpses of the bright blue sky through leaves above. For the majority of my shots I left was two options. Either compose to cut out any sky and bright spots on trunks and the floor or bracket and combine in post processing later. The later would require some additional work as although bracketing would capture all the light range, the brightest spots of the sky where light penetrated the canopy would still be much brighter than the main subject of the frame and would immediately attract the viewers eye.
Depending on the light for each shot I generally shot a bracket of exposures from -4ev to +2ev in one stop increments. Before shooting the brackets on scene, I experimented with my base shutter speed. I did not want to completely blur all the water and wished to retain some tendrils in the small waterfalls. To achieve this my shutter speed was between 1 and 3 seconds depending on the part of the river I was shooting.
I combined the bracketed exposures using Photomatix. To prevent additional blurring of the water I used the ghosting feature in Photomatix to select the single best exposure for the water which was generally 0ev or +1ev. Generally for these images I used the fusion function to blend the exposures trying to create a flat image with the full dynamic range which I can then process in Lightroom to achieve the look I wanted for the photograph.
Just before leaving the area, I noticed this tiny mushroom growing in a tree trunk and had to try and capture it. The location of the mushroom was such that it was impossible to get my tripod near enough so I opted to handhold the camera. This required cranking the ISO up to 1600 at f/18 gave me a shutter speed of 0.4s. I used f/18 to try and get as much of the mushroom and stalk in focus which was difficult due to the level of zoom and proximity of the lens to the subject. I braced the camera against the trunk to try and get as steady as possible and hoped the optical stabilisation in the lens would do its job. I tried for a different look for this photo by switching to black and white and adding a heavy vignette. I wanted to emphasise the delicate texture of the cap of the mushroom against the soft mossiness of the background.
Waiting for the light.
Waiting to leave for Wicklow Mountains in the pre-dawn dark hours I was greeted with a sight I had waited 31 years of my life to see. It lasted a mere fraction of a second but its journey has been a whole lot longer. My morning was greeted with a shooting star. Already the early morning rise was justified and I hoped it would be the just start of things to come.
Our destination that morning was the Sally Gap in the Wicklow Mountains. We parked up in on the old military road, set up and out tripods looking west down the valley towards Kippure and waited for the sun to rise. The mist was thick obscuring the telecommunications mast on top of Kippure Hill, so we were hoping for the slightest break to allow the morning light to flood the valley. Several times the mist, rolling down the vallef from the Tonduff mountain at our back, started to break but soon obscured the valley once again. Timing was critical.
Our hopes were starting to fade when the first signs of morning colour started to appear in the clouds over Ballynabrocky hill down in the valley. If only the mist would lift. Suddenly a break appeared. I fired off a number of frames before the mist rolled in. I recomposed to the portait format hoping for a panorama in the next break. We waited and waited. Several times I looked like it would break but didn’t. Sadly when it did break again, the colour in the light was gone.
Undeterred we packed up and continued on with our morning. Heading down into the valley to capture some shots of the fast flowing streams carving there way down the valley. Our first stop was beside a small bridge. The bridge is relatively modern and not particularly attractive, but beside the bridge are two wonderful old trees which have grown and bent to mother natures demand and now seem to point back in the valley in the direction of the road. With the heavy morning mist still obscuring the mountains but with a rich blue sky above I felt the shot had the potential for a nice black and white. The dark valley and bright sky and clouds above the mist created a high dynamic range requiring a bracketing of exposures to capture the full details.
I love the sky in the first of these two image with a slight bend in the road providing a leading line into the distance. However, I could only get a single tree from this angle and you dont quite get to see the full distortion of the tree. The second image displays the trees to their full beauty. I also prefer the full curving dipping road in the second. At the time I was slightly worried that the modern bridge parapets would distract from the image, but I think they blend in ok. The sky does not quite have the interest of the first image, but all lines lead to the morning lights which is trying to break through the mist which I quite like. I can’t decide which image I prefer; sometimes it is the first image and sometimes the second.
Breaking for breakfast and a cup of warming tea we caught sight of our first deer of the day. On the ridge of the nearby hill at nearly a kilometer away, it was but a distance spot on the horizon but through binoculars we confirmed it was a stag which was mostly likely a silka cross-breed. Once we had the stag we soon found his pack of hinds. October is the rutting season and the Stag can be very protective of his territory and hinds. We called him using the a deer caller which imitates the call of a rival stag. The stag responded with his own call but refused to come any closer as we were sitting up wind and quite visible next to our cars. Still it is always great to gain sight of wild animals in their natural territory.
One of our group is a wildlife photographer so he took us on to another area in the mountains where there are regular sightings of deer. It also happens to be next to a stream which meant I got the best of both worlds. After a short walk upstream I came across this stretch of water. I was immediately attracted to the group of moss covered rocks with drew the eye into the tree in the background which was growing out over the river bank. Luckily the river was quite shallow allowing me to step out into the middle of the group of mossy rocks to get this shot. The base exposure was half a second which allowed a little blurring of the water, but I bracketed the image to allow for the difference between the foreground and retain detail in the clouds and sky. I used to a polarising filter to cut through some of the reflection in the water exposing the gravelly river bed in the shallows between the rocks. A little tidying cleared away a few fallen leaves leaving only the single leave in the foreground of the shot. This is quite a simple shot but I like the contrast of the green mossy rocks and the golden river bank and leave. The wind was doing its best to remove my leave from the scene so it needed a few attempts to get it right.
All images © Greig Houghton 2012
Having only discovered Ballynafagh Church a few months ago and with it so close on my doorstep, I knew it would be difficult not to shoot there when I get some spare time. Saturday night proved to be one of those times with the weather looking decent for the setting sun.
All images © Greig Houghton 2012
My wife reached a a major milestone brithday last month for which I treated her to a weekend in County Clare followed by a night in Tipperary. We stayed at the Wild Honey Inn in Lisdoonvarna for two nights followed by a night in the Old Convent, Clogheen. Both places have a great reputation for food and they did not let us down in this regard. The Old Convent particulary stood out for their amazing hospitality and the quality of the establishment.
All images © Greig Houghton 2012.
“Never go back into an old love, no matter how strong it is, because its like reading a book over and over again when you already know how it ends….” Anon
Nearly two years had past since our first visit to Kuala Lumpur, but we could not wait to get back even if it was for a mere 12 hours. Our flight from Kota Kinabalu arrived in the early afternoon and with our connecting flight to Dublin (via Dubai) not leaving until 2am in the morning. This allowed us an afternoon and evening to revisit some of our favourite places in the cities and re-establish our love with KL.
© Greig Houghton 2013. All rights reserved