Welcome to our monthly focus on one of our Society members.
For August 2018 we talk to David Bray
Can you tell us what first got you interested in photography?
I first started taking photographs in the summer of 1985 at the age of ten after a friend of the family who used to take me trainspotting gave me an old camera that took ‘126’ film – those cartridges that created square prints. As you can guess, most of what I took was the railway world around me on our travels. Special memories, but rubbish photos.
I’ve had different cameras since then, but I guess I finally caught onto a more serious interest in photography when I got my first DSLR in the summer of 2013. That was a Canon EOS600D with a couple of kit lenses. By that time, my interest in the ‘modern’ railway had diminished and most of my photographs were of my interests in aviation and my family adventures too. It was all very basic and kind of predictable photography, but I got some shots I liked a lot.
Seeing the benefit of a DSLR camera, and the different effects of using alternative lenses, lighting styles and times of day, I found myself venturing a little further afield in my photography subjects. I tried a couple of workshops… I tried a couple of different techniques as a result of attending different organised photography events and of course the more I practiced, the happier I became with my images.
So happy, I bought more photography equipment… much to Canon’s delight I am sure.
I guess the biggest plus for me after joining a successful club like Dunchurch Photographic Society, was meeting different people, and seeing many different styles and subjects of photography. It’s opened my eyes, and I’ve broadened my subject horizons significantly as a result, even if you don’t fully see the fruits of that in my gallery yet.
What type of photographs do you most enjoy taking?
I’ve tended to pigeonhole myself as a bit of a transport photographer… railways and aeroplanes mostly. I attend The Royal International Air Tattoo each year at RAF Fairford and come back with as many as ten thousand new images to find time to process.
Attending different events has led me towards a significant enjoyment of night photography… I am aware of photographers who only come out to play when the sun is shining and there’s a clear blue sky. That’s too rigid for me… I can do a lot with fluffy clouds, and of course with night photography, you can record some wonderful scenes whatever your subject matter. Yes, I get quite a buzz from night photography.
Over the last year or so, I have grown an interest in cityscapes and landscapes, and often use night photography as a means to make an already colourful scene come to life with reflections on water.
I have also become interested in astrophotography, capturing the stars above an interesting landscape composition. Those have been some of the hardest photographs to take… often in difficult conditions, but so satisfying to see them come to life in the workshop, using both Lightroom and Photoshop programs to tweak here and there.
I still have a lot to learn, both in camera, and in post processing with all the subjects I enjoy photographing the most… but it’s a fun old journey at the moment, and I am keen to improve.
What type of photographic equipment do you use?
Currently, I use a Canon 6D full frame camera for normal photography purposes and for landscape/astrophotography. I use a Canon 16-35mm F2.8 wide angle for my astrophotography, and for other work I have a Canon 24-105mm as well. I use Hoya ND filters/stoppers for daytime landscape work.
For stability in night photography, I use a Manfrotto 055 tripod. It’s carbon fibre, lightweight and very sturdy. Served me well in Iceland that did!
My second body is a Canon 7DMk2 crop sensor which I use for ‘aircraft in the air’ and air-show work. With that, I use a Canon 100-400Mk2 zoom lens. This is a wonderful combination I would recommend for anyone looking to photograph low flying aircraft at a show, or airport etc.
Yes, that’s an expensive collection for a common guy like me. I had to save hard for it. I would say that anyone new to the hobby does not need to spend crazy money… unless you intend to do astrophotography. To do that justice, I believe you do have to save and invest a bit.
Can you identify some photographers that have inspired you?
Generally, the subjects I have tended to specialise in have resulted in me finding my own way… aircraft and railways. However, I learn from others around me and people I see taking a different approach on social media with the same subjects. I wouldn’t say I am an artist with my work at all… I am more a straight bat player… but keen to learn new tricks.
However, I would recommend checking out Ollie Taylor and his night landscape/astrophotography work. I came across him on social media whilst looking to try something different with my photography. I had seen that he had taken a wonderful star filled landscape image. Not just the stars, but an interesting, well exposed foreground too. I immediately thought, ‘I want to do that…’
So, I looked up Ollie’s website and saw many more images of his that knocked my socks off. I booked my first astro-photography workshop with him back in April 2017 and learned a lot more about it all from him down at Portland Bill. I even took my own image of the Milky Way rising at about three o’clock in the morning… a long night… but amazing stuff to witness and learn from him.
From that, I booked a trip to Iceland with him earlier this year for a bash at the Northern Lights. A fair challenge that was… but the ordeal of cold, clear sky night photography just shy of the Arctic Circle made the results all the more rewarding. Sometimes, the lesson is exactly that… What you are prepared to put in, can deliver fantastic results. Can’t wait to go back with him and the gang next September.
Closer to home, since being a member of the Society here, I have been inspired to learn more about post processing and deliver a ‘Parmee…’ or a ‘Tatham…’!!
Can you show us a selection of your photographs each with a short explanatory paragraph ; what inspired you to take the photograph or process it in the way you have?
This was one of the first photographs I took on my first digital SLR, that Canon EOS600D. It was shot directly as a JPG image. This was taken during a ‘get to know your camera’ workshop at London Zoo during the summer of 2013. I am yet to find my way into wildlife or natural world photography, but I liked the composition of this one. A heron is a large bird, so I tried to capture the detail in the beak, and the feathers around the head and neck. The beady eye, and the colour of that water makes this shot work for me with the contrast.
Dirty 9F at Swithland
By the summer of 2015, I had switched to taking photographs in RAW format, leaving me more wriggle room to post process the images to my liking. This photograph was taken on a Timeline Events photographic charter on the Great Central Railway at Swithland Sidings. The locomotive is presented in a downtrodden, dirty and workaday condition as it would have been in the late 1950s or early 1960s and is hauling a suitable train of that period. The loco is working reasonably hard and producing a convincing amount of smoke, there are several good leading lines in the image. Processing this one in a monochrome with a slight tint adds to the feeling of ‘yesteryear.’ Very pleased with this one. And for the judges, there’s just enough space on the left of the image for the train to pass by into. ISO800 and 1/500th of a second shutter.
Okay, this is me in my comfort zone I guess… night photography. This was during an RAF organised charity session down at RAF Northolt (London) in October 2016. Here we see a C-130 Hercules (ZH880) of the Royal Air Force in No. 47 Squadron centenary markings, running up two of the four engines. That adds a little drama to the scene… And I liked the composition of the RAF Chinook helicopter visible under the wing too. Colour… a good spinning propeller disc and reasonably sharp for a 600D. ISO100 and 30 seconds exposure.
During post processing, I had to remove/clone out a thin red and white streak across the sky, made by the navigation strobe lights of another aircraft as it passed over the airfield at altitude during the exposure. I also like the contrast in thirds from top to bottom… the dark night sky, the main aeroplane subject, and then the interesting pattern of the tiled ground. This photo also shows that you don’t always have to include the whole aircraft (wings etc) to make a pleasing composition. It took me a while to catch on to that.
Midnight at St Paul’s
This was another Timeline Events charter, down in London with vintage buses and some re-enactors to take us back to the 1950s. Normally, London’s streets are busy with traffic and people, so this was a late night shoot, and in this scene, it is just after midnight. It had been raining earlier in the evening and there were some nice reflections at other locations we visited. By the time we got to St Pauls, evaporation had started and there was a discernible mist rising, reminiscent of the bad old smoggy days of the mid-20th Century. What I like about this is the initial ‘older times’ look to the photograph… but the closer and longer you look, you can see signs of modern times that give the game away. Made you look for them though… ISO100 and half a second shutter speed.
Tall in the Saddle
This photograph was taken at North Weald airfield near Epping and was a Timeline Events ‘1940s style pin-up’ shoot. The aeroplane is called ‘Tall In The Saddle,’ a genuine World War Two ‘Red Tail’ P-51 Mustang used by the Tuskegee Airmen, the first Afro-American squadron. The model has a suitable look to capture a 1940s style ‘postcard from home’ theme… the hair, the figure and the outfit all work. The monochrome treatment helps make the scene believable for what it is too. The aeroplane is secondary, although there are some nice details to it. The model is off centre, but demanding all of the attention. For me, there is further proof here that one does not always need all of the model, or all of the aeroplane to make a photograph complete. ISO100 and 1/400th of a second shutter speed. Judges won’t like that the model has her eyes almost closed, but I’m the photographer, and I prefer models not to look directly into my lens.
Tornado GR4 at Bwlch
June 2018… my first successful trip to the North Wales low flying training range known as the Machynlleth Loop… Hard work to get up the mountain at Bwlch, but the views are stunning, even if you see no aircraft. Here I have managed to capture a Royal Air Force Tornado GR4 performing a low pass as it follows the twists and turns of the low flying area. It is an amazing feeling to be able to capture images like these, looking down on the aircraft as they fly and turn below you. Difficult to describe. I’ve processed this one carefully to keep evidence of the jet exhaust, but also left enough room for the aircraft to fly into as it passes by. Judges seem to like that. Regular ‘Mach Loop’ photographers like to fully fill the frame with the aircraft during passes like these. Different strokes and all that. ISO400 and shutter speed of 1/1250th of a second! If you fancy trying this kind of photography, speak to myself or Phil Lindley, and we can look at organising another trip.
How do you see your photography developing in the future?
Well, I certainly see many more opportunities in the future to practice my photography… whether that be my main subjects, or new opportunities as a result of being a member of the Society. I think the biggest things I aim to achieve is that of identifying a good, or even a better composition for a photograph. A lot of my work would be considered ‘record shots.’ I like those, they are memories of good days and good things witnessed. But that won’t be good enough to show at exhibition, or do well in competitions.
When I compare even my own attempts at more creative work, with that of others in the society, I can see that I have to smarten up the appearance of my images… I need them to sing more for me. The only way I can do that is take a decent image in the camera in the first instance, and of course become more dextrous in the use of post processing techniques. It’s all about practice… and more practice… and finding the time to practice even more.
Hopefully I can show you more images again in the future. I’ve kept a lot back because I want to put them into competition this coming season… so watch out!! Ha-ha!
Thanks David for sharing these insights. We are excited about seeing more of your great images during the course of the year.