Fragments of Sidmouth

    Fragments of Sidmouth is the result of a collaborative project with the Sidmouth School of Art on the theme of A Sense of Place. The composite image of 36 different architectural “fragments” was exhibited on the Sidmouth School of Art billboard in Sidmouth during October and November 2021. The billboard artwork and the individual images reveal details of some of Sidmouth’s buildings; they appeal to me for their graphic qualities. Some are decorative, some less so; but between them it is to be hoped that you will see something of Sidmouth.

    Everywhere you look in the built environment there is architecture. It is a world full of fascinating shapes and forms that take on different appearances as you change your viewpoint and observe one element against another, and that may create a geometric harmony as you reach some perfect viewpoint.

    Sidmouth is no exception and in our town we are fortunate to have many interesting and beautiful buildings in our landscape.

    Photographing architecture is a voyage of discovery. The more you look, the more you see. You discover the embellishments, notice the symmetry, find that “perfect viewpoint” and hopefully capture the essence of the building or at least some part of it.

    Sometimes a building will have a dominant feature that is readily visible from afar and is in a way its signature, there for everyone to see and admire; the arches over the main windows and door of the old post office are a good example. Or perhaps the perfect viewpoint for the definitive composition is discovered almost by accident after viewing the subject from many different angles; the back of the Drill Hall for instance, an unlikely location.

    Why black and white? Monochrome treatment emphasises the graphic nature of the construction elements, the distracting colours are gone, and the viewer is led to concentrate on the shapes, lines and patterns of the builders’ materials and the architects’ designs.

    You can see an interactive map showing the individual images and their locations here.

    The Fragments of Sidmouth installation on the Sidmouth School of Art billboard next to Sidmouth Swimming Pool and overlooking the Ham West car park.

    Llangattock Escarpment

    llangattock escarpment
    Reclaimed by Nature

    Yesterday seven of us from Tetbury Camera Club made an expedition across the Bristol Channel to Wales; to the Llangattock Escarpment in Powys to be more precise. This was a follow on from a recce that a few of us had made a couple of weeks previously to check out the lay of the land and timings for the planned day out. It was a cold day, hats, gloves, thermals, and hot coffee all needed to keep us going.

    The Llangattock Escarpment is a long escarpment south of the Usk Valley, overlooking Crickhowell. The location is an old “industrial” area of quarries and spoil heaps that have long been handed back to nature and which provides an interesting landscape to photograph. There are a few remnant signs of the industrial works (see picture left)  which add a bit of further interest. The light wasn’t quite as kind as it had been on the recce trip but even so it was a good morning on the hills.

    We then headed on to the Big Pit National Coal Museum in Blaenavon where we had lunch. It was a working coal mine from 1880 to 1980 and was opened to the public in 1983; it is now part of the Blaenavon Industrial Landscape, a World Heritage Site. There are many interesting things to photograph here. Various pieces of old equipment are scattered about the site, including an old mining locomotive, various assorted rusty mining kit as well as railway trucks and locomotives.

    llangattock escarpment
    Valley View

    The old workshop is fascinating with plenty of old rusty tools, anvils, machinery and other bits and bobs, though if you stay too long you will get worn out by the recorded commentary and will remember at exactly the right moment that you must puncture the lid on your tin of beans before putting it on the smithy’s fire to heat up, if you want to avoid an explosion! You can, of course, go down the mine; we didn’t though the coach loads of school children packed the waiting room for this attraction – yes, it’s a popular kids’ destination but that didn’t cause too much trouble as most of the time the photographers and the kids had different interests.

    After a couple of hours at the Big Pit, we headed across the other side of the valley to the Blaenavon Iron-Works, which is also part of the Blaenavon  World Heritage Site. Here is what was for a while the largest iron works in Europe – hard to imagine. Many of the buildings are still standing in various levels of decay. One of the most interesting aspects of this site was the works cottages which have been restored and are furnished in different periods covering roughly a century between the mid 1800s to the mid 1900s. These provide a wealth of photographic opportunities for still life and tableaux.

    llangattock escarpment

    The final stop was at the Hanbury Arms pub next to the River Usk in Caerleon for our supper and a thaw-out, before heading home.

    llangattock escarpment
    Balanced Tree

    Processing a Milky Way image using the Photoshop “Stack Median” filter

    Milky Way from Whitesands Bay
    Milky Way from Whitesands Bay

    This image of the Milky way was taken a few weeks ago in Pembrokeshire from the car park at Whitesands Beach at about 10pm. On the far right you can see the South Bishop Light which stands on its own small island West of Ramsey Island; it is about 9 km away to the South West.You can see it in my Astro Gallery.

    The final image is made from 14 identical 30 second exposures at ISO1600 taken in sequence using a Sony NEX7 camera with a Samyang 12mm lens at f2.0. I have in camera noise reduction turned on. The lens is manually focussed, and I have the camera set to manual for exposure to keep everything the same between successive images. Once imported into Lightroom, I adjusted the colour balance of one of the images and then synced that across to the other 13. The 14 images were then exported to Photoshop CC14 as layers in one image. Below is the method I used:

    You need to create two separate sets of 14 layers – one for the foreground and background – in fact “the ground”! And one for the sky and stars. So the first step is to duplicate all 14 layers, and group the 14 copies into a smart group which you can name “ground”.

    In each of the successive images the stars will have shifted, and for what we want to do with the “sky” set of 14 we need them all aligned. We can get Photoshop to do this automatially but we need to get PS to ignore the ground – we do that by roughly masking out the ground in each image so that it just has stars to work with.

    So, you hide all the layers except one of the sky layers to work on; create a layer mask for the visible layer and then thoroughly mask out the ground and any fixed lights etc. It doesn’t matter if you mask out some of the sky, but make sure you mask out all of the ground. You can then copy that mask to each of the other sky layers.

    Unhide the sky layers, select all 14 and then Auto Align the layers; then delete all 14 layer masks. Select the 14 sky layers and convert them to a smart object which you can name “sky”.

    What you now have is two smart objects: one “sky” with the stars lined up; one land which was already lined up unless you accidentally kicked your tripod!

    Here is the clever bit – it does require the extended version of PS, or CC14. We are going to use Layers > Smart Objects > Stack Mode > Median to perform some clever processing which will substantially reduce the noise, particularly colour noise. Where there is a pixel at a particular position in the image with the same value in each of the 14 images, that same value will be used in the final result – eg a star. Where there is a pixel whose value changes randomly in each of the 14 images then the median value will be used in the final result – eg noise and plain sky. As the noise is random and if there are sufficient images as a sample to work on, then the result of this process is to cut out a large amount of the noise.

    So we do the Layers > Smart Objects > Stack Mode > Median on each of our two smart objects.

    Then Finally, select the foreground, add a layer mask and paint out the blurry sky to reveal the noise free sky layer – here, more care is needed in the masking to get the boundary between ground and sky just the way you want it.

    After that it is “just” a matter of processing to bring out the details in the Milky Way, etc. I do this back in Lightroom.

    Each of the 14 files from the NEX7 is a 25Mb dng file – thats a lot of pixels for PS to handle when it has these 14 images loaded up as layers in one file. So the processing is not instantaneous particularly when converting to smart objects and running the median filter. I noticed that the processor was running at about 60% but that 97% of my 8Gb of RAM was being used, so perhaps it would be quicker with more RAM. There are also issues with saving TIFF files over 2Gb. In any event, I flattened the layers after the PS processing was complete as there was no need to save the layers as it could all be done again if necessary and my final processing was in LR which is non destructive anyway.

    This is the first time I have used this method and I am very pleased with the noise reduction. What would I do different next time? I would use a higher ISO – 3200 – and a shorter exposure time to cut the star trails.

    Detail of unprocessed image
    Detail of unprocessed image
    Detail of processed image using median filter
    Detail of processed image

What’s it all about?

Here are my jottings about my photographic projects and activities. I have been working on a focus stacking macro photography rig. There are quite a few posts about that. In addition I write about other photographic activities as and when!


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