Kootwijkerzand / Radio Kootwijk

If you ask a random person to describe the Dutch countryside, 99 times out of 100 they will mention cows in a field that is so flat, you could play snooker on it. I used to live on the Veluwe, a forest-rich ridge of hills in the province of Gelderland. This is where the place the polar ice sheets stopped during the Saale Ice Age before retreating and leaving the deposits behind.

To me, the fields with cows are just as foreign as to you. One of the most interesting places around where I grew up was Kootwijkerzand, a 7km2 large area of sand dunes and Scots Pines. The area was lucky enough to be too poor to be turned into grasslands and it stayed like it was since the Ice Age for a long time. Unfortunately, due to the larger amounts of nitrogen in the atmosphere due to the increased traffic, the previously infertile dunes now can sustain mosses and trees which are now cut back regularly to keep the unique landscape.

It was this empty area that the authorities picked as the location to build the huge radio station to keep in contact with the colonies in 1922. I do remember the huge aerial on the roof which was torn down in 1980.

The photo walk around Chalfont St Peter

Last week I felt I needed some exercise and decided to follow one of the circular walks as described on the Colne Valley Park website. We had gone round a few years before in Spring and been amazed by the yellow rapeseed fields, but this time the walk was going to be in the snow.

I was really having a great time in the snow when I came across a tree all by itself in a large field just off the M25 motorway. I had been scouting for a tree like that  late last year, but hadn’t spotted the ideal tree yet and now it was right in front of me. The composition that spoke to me most came together when several fences forming a triangle in the bottom half of the photo with the tree standing all alone in the top half of the photo, sort of resting on the triangle.

Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station

Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station

Driving on the M1 in the area of Nottingham, the Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station is difficult to miss. I had noticed it on our trips to the Peak District and earlier this week I decided to drive up there to see what I could capture on film. I have to confess, I do know that these kind of coal powered power stations are a disaster for the environment but I do love the contrast of the concrete cooling towers in the middle of nowhere. I know that Michael Kenna came up to shoot here, so I’m not alone. Smile

If you look up the Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station in Google Earth (February 2012), you get some old aerial photos presented which don’t show the East Midlands Parkway railway station that has been constructed just next to the power station in 2009 and which has opened up the whole area. You can trust the road and roundabouts drawn in the middle of some trees and a field in Google Earth. I was really surprised how close you can get to the cooling towers. A great location, recommended!

Directions: Follow the M1 until J24, exit the motorway and follow the signs to the train station down the  A453 and exit left once you arrive at the power station.

See here and here for 360° panoramas of the power station.

How to find locations?

One of the problems I have always had was how to find great photo locations while having little time to spend in a town or country. A Travel Guide will give you the obvious shots, but limiting myself to those I never found satisfying. The solution I found is to scan the area to which I intend to travel in Google Earth and inspect those little blue markers that indicate uploaded photos in Panoramio. If I find something I like, I note the latitude and longitude and enter those as waypoints (favourites) in my GPS unit.

I quickly learned to zoom in a lot as the larger, more popular blue markers in Google Earth, for some inexplicable reason, always seem to contain the least interesting of photos. My guess is that the larger markers point to the photos Panoramio started off with and therefore have collected a lot of hits over the years especially during the period when few photos were uploaded. By the way, the red markers in Google Earth contain 360° panoramas and are certainly worth clicking through on to scout for locations as well.

To keep the system going, I have uploaded some of my photos to Panoramio which is the site Google uses to allow people to upload geotagged photos to Google Earth. Please have a look at the photos I uploaded.

Update: Sometimes it is quicker to use the Panoramio pages directly and browse  to area of interest via their maps. Depending on how far you have zoomed in, most photos will show up in miniature on the map and a panel on the left hand side lists the most popular photos. This way you avoid clicking on all the blue icons in Google Earth and only inspect those photos that catch your eye; all in all, a much faster process.

Lensbaby 2.0 on a manual focus camera

After having struggled with getting satisfying results with my lensbaby 2.0 on my Pentax MZ-S and Pentax K20D, both autofocus cameras, I had an epiphany and decided to use the lensbaby on my old, manual Pentax ME and all of a sudden it came together. As you probably know, the lensbaby 2.0 is focussed by adjusting the tube length and tilting the lens to adjust the sweetspot with one hand while the other hand operates the shutter. After having used autofocus lenses for so long, I had completely forgotten the effective tools that a manual camera offers to help focus. The Pentax ME comes with with split image and a microprism ring in the centre in the viewfinder which offers a lot more help focussing a lensbaby than focussing just on the matte of my more modern cameras as the autofocus points would light up but cannot be relied upon.

JLPT Kanji flashcards for JLPT N5 and N4 for Kindle

If you are interested, please find the kanji required for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) levels N5 and N4 in Mobi format for Kindle here and here. I prepared them for myself to be able to practice while on the go, but decided to share the files. Comments are welcome but the files come as they are.
I’ll be preparing vocabulary and grammar lists next, revisit from time to time to check for updates.

(built using the Mobipocket eBook Creator)

Long exposure photography without the hassle

If you are reading this, you have very likely seen the amazing long exposure seascapes and architectural photos that have become very popular lately. Of course, long exposures have been popular for a long time and during the years when photography was first invented, the photographers had no choice but to use very long exposure times as the emulsions used just weren’t very sensitive. But it is going through a revival and I don’t really know when and by whom long exposures became popular again, but I do admire a lot the work of Kees Smans, Joel Tjintjelaar and Sunstone Maria among many others.
Joel Tjintjelaar has a great set of tutorials available on his website which I can recommend strongly if you are curious how it is done and if you would like to try yourself.

However, the reason for this blog entry is that the chances are that your DSLR has a function built-in that sort of simulates the effect and can give quite decent results without requiring anything more than a tripod and maybe a remote control. No neutral density filters required at all. I’m referring to the multi-exposure option of your camera. I’m not aware of the details of the many different brands of DSLRs out there, but my Pentax K20D has a multi-exposure option available under the Rec Mode menu from the Menu button. When you select this to enable it by setting the number of exposures you want to take, you will find an Auto EV Adjust option that can be checked.

So what does this do? The Pentax manual states the following for the multi-exposure option: “Select the number of shots between 2 and 9 (Auto EV Adjust can be set according to the number of shots)” and that it is all it says about this useful feature. Why do camera manuals go out of their way to hide the coolest features of the cameras they describe? Why not add an appendix with “These are some of the cool features of the camera you have just bought and this is how you use them”?
Anyway, if you select several exposures and enable the automatic adjustment of the exposure, everything in the scene that is not moving will show up crystal clear, but everything that is moving, like water or clouds, will get that smooth, velvety appearance you are after. Just keep pressing the shutter with intervals of a few seconds or minutes (maybe) until you have reached the number of exposures you selected and the camera will fuse the different exposures together into a single, perfectly exposed image. If your camera wants to refocus for each exposure, make sure to set it to manual focus.– I find that it works best if you select 5 or more exposures and use a remote control, wired or wireless, to avoid any camera shake. I think that this is as simple as it gets.

If you have a different brand of camera drop me a comment and let me know if your camera implements such a feature.

EXIF data and scanned images

Since Adobe’s Lightroom and most of the other tools that I use are geared towards DSLRs, I have felt the need to add as much EXIF data to my scanned images as possible. The more photos I add to Lightroom, the more important Smart Collections are getting to me and the less I want to rely on keywords. Things got even more complicated when I started using more than one film camera and wanted to use the standard ways to sort my photos by camera. Besides, I do have a blog and display my photos online, it is rather normal that my visitors want to inspect the EXIF data to understand how I arrived at this particular exposure, what my reasoning was.

Luckily, my Pentax MZ-S and Pentax 645NII cameras record exposure data on the side of the negative, but even if your camera doesn’t do this, it is still worth adding at least the camera information, film information, development information, used ISO, and any other thing that you can remember to the image. I use Vuescan to scan my negatives and it would be a great if this tool could also store all the EXIF you have available, but unfortunately it only stores the minimum EXIF data in the scanned image. I suggested adding EXIF data functionality to the image to Vuescan but I guess that Vuescan is already complicated enough and it never was added.

If you have googled how to update EXIF data in an image, you have probably come across the ExifTool by Phil Harvey. This tool can do everything and more, but in the end it is a Perl script with a command line interface. What was needed was a graphical user interface to the ExifTool and Bogdan Hrastnik has stepped up and developed the ExifToolGUI Windows tool for which you can find all information here. Strongly recommended!