the blog - Pixielated Pixels

the blog

It has been suggested to me that I need to write more lengthy introductions to my image posts and that I don't offer a whole lot of words to go with them. The problem with me is that I'm first and foremost a visual guy and not particularly a wordsmith. I am aware that those with the gift of the gab get ahead faster and I'm sure that my life as a whole would have been so much better if I had been a little slicker and more outgoing verbally. I probably could have retired a bit richer too. However, I am what I am and I've reached a good old age anyway, able to spend my time doing what I love! Everything I have to give is in my pictures and I didn't even show those to anyone until I had retired already. Not everyone is given to speechifying, I'm one of those introverted folks who would rather stick pins in his eyes than stand up and talk with a microphone and avoid such occasions at all cost. It is much the same with putting pen to paper. Although I have written a few small articles here and there it does not, by any means, come naturally to me, in spite of a reasonable command of the English language due to a decent British education (more on THAT below!) With all of the marketing mad folk out there these days it's quite possible there are way too many words sprayed at us on a daily basis already and there is a good chance that most of them are pretty meaningless and empty anyway.

So you all will just have to accept that I'm probably not going to start spouting forth all kinds of intellectual dribble about my images and that I will present them as is and let you make up your own minds and opinions about them. I'm hoping that you'll like some of them anyway and if you have any specific questions I would, of course, be happy to answer them to the best of my ability.

Having said that, I will add the following tidbits of information about me. I hope it suffices to explain me a bit more.

I keep my camera in AV mode and often bracket so that I have a choice of exposures to use or the possibility of an HDR image which I create in Photoshop, processing in Camera Raw thereby keeping the file in 32bits until saved back to Lightroom. I have stopped using Photomatix and the like due to the frequent HDR halo look which I prefer to do without.

All my images are produced in Lightroom and Photoshop CC. Depending on the image I may also have used some combination of Nik's software, onOne's Perfect Suite 10 and/or several of the Topaz Labs plug-ins. I use these mostly in manual mode but sometimes using the presets before tweaking them for the effect I'm after. Often a preset is a good place to start but must be reduced in opacity and added to other presets also tweaked and reduced in level. Kind of like cooking a recipe, a little of this and a little of that!

I also frequently add layers of texture files to my images. Sometimes up to three or four texture files at various opacity and using different blending modes. I probably should have been a painter but never learned. I have spent many years now learning how to do this with the tools available in software, having been playing with computers and photography together since 1986. I use a home built computer with dual ten-core Xeon processors and 64 gigs of RAM, a 30-inch monitor and a 24" Wacom Cintiq to get the job done. My motto has always been "reality is rather overrated!" I prefer to create the image (to the best of my ability) that I see in my mind's eye!

School Dayz


Absque Labore Nihil In work, in play, in life; In rivalry of nations Or boyhood's friendly strife: The race goes to the eager, The laggard falls behind, And ever to the bravest do fortune's smiles prove kind! When years have rolled behind us, And back in time's deep shade, The distant days of boyhood grow fainter 'til they fade; One memory we'll cherish, One name hold ever dear, and through the darkening shadows our school shall yet stand clear.

The motto Absque Labore Nihil (without labor nothing) was written over the door of the original building that housed my school but when the school moved to it's later much larger building the motto stayed and caused much laughter as the building was turned into a maternity hospital. My old school song above, should, I suppose bring back happy memories but truth be told I hated school. I was always a precocious brat and needed to be inspired by a subject in order to become interested enough to want to learn and in those days inspiration was very hard to find. Education was dry and taught by "masters" who wore their black academic gowns all day every day and were only to be addressed as Sir. Nothing about learning Latin by memorizing tables of verbs and nouns - "mensa, mensa, mensam, mensae, mensae, mensa" - could I possibly find inspirational and the other subjects with the exception of English were just as meaningless. Even in art I was disappointed. In my first art class we were presented with a large table covered with square cards on each of which was a circle composed of colored dots. Hidden within the dots we were told were numbers and we were to write these numbers down. Not one of these arcane numbers presented itself to me so I was written off as color blind and no use to the art establishment what-so-ever. I spent the rest of my art classes at the school using compass and ruler to draw Gill Sans lettering as a sign writer of the time would have done. Never was a reason for learning any of this brought to my attention so the apparent pointlessness of it all made it all seem appallingly stupid.

English was at least made tolerable by the teacher in charge of filling our small brains with the proper usage of our language because he was a bit of a rebel himself and a most intelligent one at that. He filled our class hours by reading the works of Jonathan Swift especially his satiric treatment of the Irish problems (wherein the Irish could solve their financial problems by selling their abundant offspring to the English as a food source) along with similarly probably unapproved works. Satire and dark humor appealed immensely to me and I remember that class to this day. Unfortunately I forget the master's name but do remember that he carried a marble down in the sleeve of his gown and if some boy or other was whispering in class or otherwise being inattentive to his instruction he would casually walk down the space between desks until he was close and then swirl around in such a way that his sleeve would fly through the air and the marble would purposely hit the perpetrator's head bringing him back quickly to the present moment, if in some degree of pain.

Rules were everywhere and about everything. Sixth Form boys, having been made school prefects, roamed the world looking out for miscreants like me! The school uniform was worn at all times when at school or going to or from the school and if one was caught outside without a tie or the school cap on one was in trouble. (Only in the hottest of summer months was dispensation given so that we could remove our ties in class but they still had to be worn in the hallways and on the street) Of course, as I slipped off after school to the local Ice Cream Parlor to hang out with the ne’er-do-wells, be a pin ball wizard and chat up the girls, the last thing I wanted was for anyone to see me in my shorts, cap and tie etc so in I went to the first public toilet I found and changed into jeans and casual jacket always secretly carried in my duffel bag. This I got away with for my entire school days passed the age of about fourteen. The importance of the school name was constantly thrust upon us to the point that one could get into trouble simply by eating a bun or an ice cream while in the street in school uniform. I was once seen by a school prefect flicking a pellet of folded paper from a rubber band at a fellow pupil on the street and reported, a crime for which I was caned by the headmaster.

In a school of around 650 boys (no girls) there was invariably some boy or boys who had misbehaved enough to be caned therefore there was an almost daily ceremony after morning assembly during which those to be punished stood outside the headmaster's study door, (the headmaster, having absolutum dominium, was the only person in this particular school allowed the privilege of beating the boys) fearfully awaiting their turn inside. It didn't take very much bad behavior to warrant getting “the swish”, I once knocked over a test tube in a chemistry class and as it fell to the floor muttered “bloody hell.” An expletive unfortunately overheard by our aging Scottish-protestant chemistry master. As swearing was, naturally, a dire crime indeed, he handed down a punishment of two afternoons of detention. Alas, it was end of term so I could only do one afternoon of detention so the other afternoon became four strokes of the cane instead.) Once inside the hated office one waited in front of Harry Brogan's large oak desk while he lengthily explained to you the awfulness of one's wrongdoing and the punishment that he was about to mete upon you. Once done with this introduction he would lead you over to the other side of the room and have you remove your blazer and bend over an arm chair gripping the arms with your hands. Then he would wander back to his desk, carefully remove his academic gown and slowly fold it, placing it neatly over the arm of his chair making sure to take his time about in order to raise the levels of fear and apprehension that were enveloping one's poor teenage self. This done he then went to a narrow tall cabinet mounted on his wall just visible from your bent over position, opened it to display four or five bamboo canes of varying thicknesses and carefully chose one. He then came close and stood behind one practicing his swing and making loud swooshing noises in the air as you anticipated any one of these swings to end in the sharp pain of the cane making contact with your rear end. After a number of minutes of complete dread the cane did, indeed, eventually make that contact provoking an extraordinarily high degree of sharp pain. Deep and wide lines of red, black and blue bruises would appear shortly after this and would be quite visible on the flesh of that plump area for the next month or so. Of course, let us not forget the need to obey the rules of the British “Stiff Upper Lip.” Once permitted to leave this sanctum of authority one had to go straight back to class where everyone knew exactly what had transpired. Entering the class late, with everyone watching you, it was necessary to simply sit right down and look like nothing at all had actually happened. Show one sign of discomfort and all of your peers would look down on you as though you had betrayed the entire school. The second time I was caned I came up at the end of the four strokes with my fists clenched. “Now now” said Brogdan, “take it like a man.” I have often wondered what went on in this man's mind as he “enjoyed” this daily pastime and I have always wondered what would have happened if I were ever to have bumped into him out in the normal world after I had left school and become an adult. Corporal punishment did nothing to ensure that I saw the error of my ways but instead instilled a loathing for the system and a complete distrust of authority figures which has lasted for my entire life.

In England in those days the young were divided into two groups at age eleven. Those that had smarts and those that did not. This was accomplished by forcing all children to take an intelligence test called the “11 plus”. If you passed the exam you were sent to a “grammar” school, as I was, from whence you were expected to end up at university and become a lawyer, a doctor, a scientist or (preferably) a military officer. If you came up with a low score you went to a “secondary modern” school and had no hope of becoming anything other than a plumber, a bricklayer, a carpenter, factory worker or some such or perhaps canon fodder for the army. I must have scored very well as the school was the top one in the area and I started out in the top level, the “A” stream with the brainiacs and swots. After a term or two I was moved down two levels into the “C” stream where I found myself among like minded boys. Here were the chaps that became musicians and artists and what not. I felt somewhat more comfortable here (in spite of the fact that the usual school bullies and sundry nasties also ended up in these classes) and actually made a couple of friends.

All comfort levels vanished, however, after the beginning of the third year. At thirteen years of age all pupils were expected to participate in the Combined Cadet Force and every Friday was military day. Pupils came to school in army uniforms and spent time shining their boots and belt buckles, marching up and down all over the place and doing other mindless things like that. My stepfather who was a pacifist had issue over that and made sure to see that I was given a pass on that nonsense. Unfortunately this did not go down well with my friends and classmates who proceeded to give me hell over it and called me things like conchie with the usual levels of cruelty that only young teens can pour upon each other. This eventually lightened up a bit when they realized that I had requested permission to study at the public library, been approved and as no one would ever go there or catch me I was just going off home every Friday afternoon while they were forced to march up and down the school playing field in full dress uniform and frequently pass out in the hot sun. So after approximately five years I left and took an apprenticeship to learn the craft of a Chef. A career in which I could not only use my brain but my hands as well and be creative. What a terrible disappointment I must have been, a CRAFT for heaven's sakes! So what had I learned that would stay with me to this day? Well, in my dotage I can still decline the latin verb to love, ammo, amas, amat, etc and I do remember one other thing. The Latin master's name was Murphy and nicknamed “Spud” so there was a pigeon-latin limerick about him I remember word for word and it went like this.... Spudibus satibus on the deskiorum, Deskibus colapsibus, Spudibus in florum

Boeing AH-64 Apache

Shooting Airplanes for Fun and Profit


I’ve been heavily into photography for many years and back in 1986 I began to integrate my photography with a new love for computers. This combination after a few years of early software on Amiga computers (remember them anyone?) finally morphed into a love of working in Photoshop.

I have a base of about a dozen favorite photographic subjects I suppose. Various places or things that I can get to in the course of life without spending money on trips abroad to exotic locales. Of course, like most photographers I would dearly love to do that but could never afford to.

One of these favorite subjects has turned out to be aircraft. Aviation art has a long history and there are many traditional painters creating in this field as well as photographers. I am certainly not rich and can't travel as much as I would like but most years I do manage to get back to England to visit my family. While vacationing in England the last few years I have been lucky enough to attend various airshows that have turned out to be the perfect opportunity to photograph airplanes both in flight and this past year on the ground as well.

I usually use my Canon 5D MKII with 70-200 zoom lens and most of the time I also use a 2x tele-converter giving me the effective reach of a 400 mm lens. I find that using my camera in the aperture priority mode with an f stop of F16 (on a reasonably bright day) gives me sharp pictures with a speed slow enough to produce realistic prop blur on the aircraft. This took some experience to determine as in previous years my propellers were rigidly static and in order to create realism it was necessary to use various layers and blur tricks to give the apparent effect of realistic spin. As with all things practice makes perfect.

With my feet safely planted on the ground I can create images that take on the appearance of planes that seem to have been taken from other planes in flight. I do this by superimposing the aircraft against images of clouds taken with a small Canon G10 camera while flying through the cloud layers during landing and takeoff on regular airline flights. I have flown to England, as mentioned, and also to various cities in the USA over the past few years for business reasons and during these flights I have built up a library of “above the clouds” shots that I keep for this purpose. Of course, as digital cameras are electronic you are supposed to turn them off during takeoff and landing but the best times to shoot the clouds are when you are low and close to them. One needs to use discretion when the flight attendants are still walking the plane, but as they usually have to sit down at these times, chances are good you can get great shots as long as you have a clean window. I also set my camera to take pictures silently so as not to draw attention to it.

I use a great many tricks in Photoshop to enhance my pictures including adding textures to some of them and adding several sky and sunset type images to them at different layer opacity levels or blend modes as well as the aforementioned clouds. This produces some wonderful effects and adds great interest to the final images. Sometimes I add a little motion blur to the aircraft or perhaps even to the sky to add the illusion of speed and a different effect. There are a great many creative opportunities that one can come up with and here again experimentation and practice makes perfect. Using masking you can change the background completely. Create dog fights or put planes into storm clouds for drama. Have planes flying low over water for another effect. You can be as creative as you like.

When in San Diego where the airport is at the bottom of a hill in the town itself I shot great images of airliners over the downtown building without resorting to cut and paste tactics. While visiting Philadelphia one recent day with a group of photographers I shot many parts of an old 1890s steam powered battle cruiser with guns sticking out all over the place. At home in front of the computer I cut all the gun ports and turrets out and “rebuilt” an Osprey marine transport helicopter, coloring it to match the steam ship. Voila! I had a fun “steampunk” flying machine. Took some patience to be sure but in Photoshop anything is possible according to your skills.

This is a great hobby providing hours of creative and relaxing fun and can also be a source of revenue if you post your successful images to sites like Fine Art America or Redbubble for sale. You can also print them yourself and sell them on EBay, Etsy or similar sites.

Some Notes On Finding Inspiration


What are we going to create today? Shooting overgrown temples at Angkor Wat in Cambodia, cruising the Nile and shooting the Pyramids in Egypt, taking pictures of almost any colorful thing in India, shooting exotic animals in the Galapagos or exploring the Great Wall of China are just some of the inspiring things I would love to do. Unfortunately at this point in life I find myself retired and living on a rather limited fixed income so all those dreams will have to remain just that, dreams. I still, however, love to make photographic images and need to find subjects that will inspire me to create my own brand of images using my favorite tools.

So what does one do? I am lucky that I live in a large metropolis which offers a great many different environments, in the city we have diverse parks, ethnic neighborhoods, financial districts, residential areas, skyscrapers, harbors, coastal places, rivers, botanical gardens, zoos and all sorts of special events, parades, and goings on that pop up begging to be photographed. I am sure that looking around the town where you live and being aware of local events you can find many of these things too. Perhaps not in the same abundance as New York City but there will be many things that we don’t have here. Even a small village has nearby countryside, farms and natural scenic splendors that can be taken advantage of.

So you have done all that? OK. Do it again. And then again. I have found that the first time I visit a place I take all the obvious images which usually turn out to be the same images everyone else took too. A second or third visit makes you start to look harder at the place and find the not so obvious pictures that often are the better choices. Take another photographer with you, this is really a good thing to get the creative juices flowing as you each bounce ideas off of each other and maybe enjoy a little friendly competition. You would be amazed how people look at the same scenes and see them in completely different ways. Compare photos after the event and see what I mean.

Watch the weather. I have shot the skyline of downtown Manhattan many times in the 42 odd years I have lived in New York but recently we had a few surprisingly warm days in mid-winter and that caused a lot of fog. I saw that this was predicted also for the next day and resolved to get up earlier and go off to the Brooklyn waterfront, lugging a tripod, where I managed to shoot some very different images than the usual glossy skyline pictures. The buildings disappeared into the mists at their tops and the results were moody and much more interesting and great fun to work with in Photoshop. As evening fell the lights of Manhattan glowed through the diffusing fog and took on a whole new look. Being aware of when the first real snow showers were due allowed me to be in Central Park at the perfect time to capture the flurries swirling around the Bethesda Fountain. These inclement weather events could have been excuses to stay in bed but I made them the inspiration to go out and take great pictures. Go out and shoot in the rain and catch those great reflections in the wet ground and puddles.

In the last few years since I retired I have joined a few photographic “meetup” groups and these days when almost everyone is a photographer I am sure at least one photo club, group or photo-walk meetup site is available where you live. It is certainly worth doing a Google search to find out. There are quite a few advantages to joining groups apart from the fact that you just might make some new friends. In the winter months I often sit home for much of the time preferring the warmth to the cold outside and it becomes difficult to talk yourself into dressing up and going out with no fixed plan as to where one is going. When a group makes plans and you have signed on it is much more likely that you will go off on the adventure than talk yourself out of it. This winter tagging along with groups I have captured many great snow shots in Central Park on two occasions, climbed a small mountain outside of Cold Spring, New York, explored Washington Heights at the very top of Manhattan, photographed holiday windows on Fifth Avenue, the tree at Rockefeller Center and Times Square at night and had a great time doing it. Talking photography with others is another way to learn and get inspired, each of us has much to offer the others and even folks new to the addiction help us to remain excited about what we do.

Joining Facebook has become another source of inspiration, a gentleman from Atlanta, loving New York, began a group called “Show me your NYC.” On a couple of occasions he has enjoyed vacations in New York at which times all the members of the group get together in the real world and go off on Photo-walks all over the city (with some enjoyable stops at the best Pizza places that the city has to offer). Walking a city with a group of like-minded people is very different than being out with friends and family. Those folks though supportive of your addiction will frequently become frustrated with having to stop and wait for you while you take pictures and you usually feel that you have to hurry and grab the shots you want. When out with a group of fellow photographers everyone totally understands what you are about and even if you have to take “just one more” they are happy to wait until you are ready. At the next stop you might be waiting for them. Sometimes you wish to set up tripods and filters and other paraphernalia simply not possible with a group of impatient non-photographer friends.

Look out for the “big” Photo-Walks” like the ones put on annularly by Scott Kelby’s "KelbyOne" who organize the World Wide Photo-Walk, there is probably one near you. Trey Ratcliff and Rick Salmon have both organized one in New York and the Flickr folks have organized them too. These can be a lot of fun and frequently draw over a hundred photographers around here. Sign up for Google+ or Facebook and join several photo “communities” they often have friendly challenges and contests with fixed themes that you can enter. No big prizes but good ideas and they will inspire you to create something for the theme.

In New York and, I imagine in other big cities, there is another advantage of going out with a group. There are many areas where one does simply not feel that safe especially when lugging a few thousand dollars’ worth of irreplaceable camera equipment or even your small but fairly expensive new point-and-shoot. With a group of ten or twenty folks there is safety in numbers so you get to visit areas that might be interesting and colorful to visit but which you would never go to on your own. Many times people in groups come up with ideas and places to visit that you just wouldn't have known about or thought of. On one occasion some folks on “Show Me Your NYC” were discussing visiting a deserted farm colony that I was totally unaware of. They made plans to do so and I was able to join them and had a fantastic day of wonderful if spooky photographic opportunities while hanging with a great bunch of people. Again something (it involved slipping through a fence with large NO TRESPASSING signs) that I would never have done on my own.

Look at the pictures others are making. These days there is no shortage of places to look at photography. It isn't all great but it is plentiful and ideas are abundant. Browsing Flickr, Facebook or Google+ amongst many other venues is sure to expose you to the work of excellent artists that will inspire you and those, not so great, that will give you ideas that you can improve upon.

Keep your past photographs organized in a catalog program such as Lightroom so that they are easy to revisit. Sometimes when going back into your old captures from a year or so ago you will find something that you missed at first inspiring you to make something new. Again, like when visiting a place for the first time, when we first go through our folders of new captures we frequently grab the most obvious and miss some of the best images with the best potential, even if they require a little more work to bring out their charms.

I basically shoot everywhere I go. I would love to visit exotic locales and take wonderful images but I make do with whatever life throws in my path. Whatever looks like it might be interesting or I think I can use later. I have thousands of images of all sorts on my hard drives and a huge library of old slides from my film days. When I’m in the mood to create I just start to browse at random through old images and I always get inspired by something and off I go. Sometimes that image doesn't work and I just start again.

When I have an idea for a new picture I try to write it down because I will surely forget all about it if I don’t. Three years ago I had an idea to do a collage of New York buildings in Photoshop, I kept forgetting the idea and then remembered it again a year later and actually went out and took pictures of a lot of buildings in preparation for it. It took me another year to rediscover those pictures in Lightroom and actually create the collage! Daily life intervenes and it really helps to have a task list. Mine popped up today when I opened Thunderbird to check my email and reminded me to write this article!

I hope you stay inspired and above all have fun.

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