Tuesday 24 December 2013

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas! Here's a warm HDR photo of our Christmas tree; 3 exposures taken with my Canon 600D, merged in Photomatix and processed with Lightroom and Nik software.

Wednesday 30 October 2013

Found a Fairy Ring

I've been keeping my eye out for one of these for a while. I go for a walk around the perimeter of where I work most days and there is a very wide variety of fungi of all shapes and sizes. I spotted a good potential Fairy Ring once and thought I'd come back the next day and take a photo, but the grass had been cut the next day!

So finally spotted the best one I have seen so far:

Its not very clear, as the mushrooms can get a bit mixed up with the dead leaves on the ground, but they were definitely making a complete ring.

Here is the same photo but I have circled the mushrooms to highlight the ring:

Not as good as the one in the Wikipedia entry but a ring nevertheless.

Tuesday 29 October 2013

Cranfield Astronomical Society

I have started attending an astronomy class at Cranfield University, which is just a short evening class for 8 weeks run by Cranfield Astronomical Society. They give some short talks each week and then if the weather is good, are eager to get outside and get some kit out to look upwards.

Last night was the first night we went outside (only my second week to be fair - last week was thunder storms!). It was cold and really clear. They have a small observatory with the main bit of kit being a Celestron C11. I didn't get a chance to look through the C11 as there were quite a few others lining up for a go and to be honest I was more interested at that point seeing what was going on outside.

They also set up a 80mm refractor, a 100mm refector and a 10" Dobsonian.

I cannot remember the guy's name, but he was setting up his personal kit, which consisted of a hefty go-to motorised mount, I can't remember exactly, but it was some Newtonian reflector ~11" telescope (big bugger), with a really cool auto-tracking system, which uses a smaller telescope mounted on the side with a webcam, which is connected to a computer and watches the stars and drives the mount accordingly. Onto this he could then mount a modified Canon D500 DSLR to do some deep sky object photography.

The mount can auto-track itself, but when trying to photograph long exposures of deep sky objects, even the slightest mis-track would result in a blurry image.

Last night he was photographing M31, the Andromeda galaxy, a favourite galaxy of many as it is one of the closest galaxies to us. It is the closest spiral galaxy, but the closest overall galaxy. It is 'only' approximately 2.5 million lightyears (not 200 million as unfortunately 2 astronomers at the class said it was, which I knew was wrong, but I wasn't about to start correcting people) from us. Small-ish in universe scales, but to us humans, so very, very far (23,668,200,000,000,000 km). Very far but also it means that as we look at it (possible with the unaided eye on a good night), we are seeing it as it appeared about 2.5 million years ago. So even as a close neighbour, we can only see what it was up to 2.5 million years ago. That could start a whole other discussion about why this buggers up ideas of making contact with 'things' in other galaxies (with current technology).

But, anyway, this guy was taking 2 minutes exposures (ISO 800) and every photo was just mind blowing. You could zoom in and see the dust trails already, just in the raw, unprocessed image. It really brings it home that these things are real and there as this guy just pointed a camera at it and took its picture. I think so many people think astronomy is just pretty colourful pictures just like abstract paintings, failing to see that they are images of real things, just like if I took a photo of my cat or the clouds in the sky.

It is hard to perceive depth and 3D in these images as they are so far away, but that's what's good about M31, it is kind of side on, so you get a sense of it being a 'disc' in space, with the front dust trails getting in the way of the rest of it.

He is going to stack up several of these images (to improve the the signal to noise ratio), so I can't wait to see the final result.

To make things more interesting, Jupiter rose whilst we were out, so the two refractors were pointed at that and through the 100mm you could clearly make out two main bands around Jupiter...and of course the Galilean moons. I can just about make out the moons through my 15x70 binoculars.

I look forward to seeing more, hopefully through the C11 next time.

Thursday 22 August 2013

Slimbox2 in Blogger

Just implemented Slimbox2 on this blog to enhance presenting photos.

From the site:
Slimbox 2 is a 4 KB visual clone of the popularLightbox 2 script by Lokesh Dhakar, written using the jQuery javascript library. It was designed to be very small, efficient, standards-friendly, fully customizable, more convenient and 100% compatible with the original Lightbox 2.
I like it, it works well and is pretty easy to set up. I hosted the JS files in my Google Drive so all is sweet.
I followed this helpful guide to put things in the right place. For the bit where you have to specify where the slimbox js files reside I used this post to host the code in my own Google Drive.

More Macro Shots - Not of a Katydid

Further to my previous post (macro-shots-of-katydid), I happened across another of these creatures and managed some snaps. I think they are some variant of Cricket. In these photos I believe it is a Speckled Bush Cricket.

Got a couple of passable shots, but a long way away from the professional type macro shots. These were all handheld shot with my Canon 600D with a Raynox adaptor on the front of my Canon 55-250 lens in the garden, whilst he was crawling around on leaves...pretty hard to get some tidy shots.

I then imported and processed them in Lightroom.

Friday 12 July 2013

Photography - Got a DSLR!

I have been interested in Photography for some time now, mostly just as a hobby, but also enjoying looking at what the professionals do and wishing I could do that one day.

I have always enjoyed making the most of the equipment I have. My last camera was a Fujifilm HS10 which was a great camera to 'bridge' the way from simple Point And Shoot cameras and phone cameras to DSLR.

BUT I have recently been blessed (by my wife, +Lisa Reynolds) who bought me a Canon 600D DSLR for my birthday! What a fantastic present! Thank you Lisa :)

And so now I am hoping to further improve my photography skills now that I am finally in the world of DSLR. Already, just shooting general photos, the quality of the images is so noticeable compared to the HS10.

One reason would be the sensor size. The HS10 is only 6.17 x 4.55mm vs 22.3 x 14.5mm of the 600D, so light collecting ability is just so much greater.

Also the lenses for a DSLR are going to be much better quality.

One thing I am really interested in is doing some HDR photography. +Trey Ratcliff is very much a source of inspiration for me and he very generously shares his photography and knowledge freely over the Internet via his Google+ page and his own website, http://www.stuckincustoms.com/.

I am certainly going to be purchasing his tutorials in the very near future as I am merely starting to scratch the surface of HDR photography.

I have tried a few HDR shots before using the HS10, but here is my first attempt with my 600D (click to view full sized version).

It isn't the most exciting, in terms of the sky, as I have been waiting and waiting for some decent sunsets and its been cloudless for the last week or so! so this was my first chance.

Got a lot to learn to improve the quality, but its a start.

Friday 14 June 2013


Just experimenting with Cinemagraphs. This is my first attempt made from a short video clip. Its by no means perfect, I haven't tried to make the image look 'nice', its just as it came out the camera. Ignore the dodgy leaf movement.

Link to Google+ post for bigger image

This was all created on Ubuntu.

I edited the clip in Avidemux to narrow it down a small section with just enough frames. Then exported the video as individual JPEG frames.

I then imported these frames 'as layers' into GIMP. I then narrowed down the number of layers again to a minimum (6 in this case) that was enough to make it work (well enough to make something look half tidy but mainly to prove the method).

Then on each layer I went Menu > Layer > Transparency > Add Alpha Channel. This allowed me to use the eraser on each layer in turn to remove all but a section I want to move.

So using the Ellipse Select Tool, I drew an elliptical selection around the area that the windmill is moving in. Then I feathered the selection and then inverted the selection. I then used the eraser on each layer, EXCEPT the last layer, to remove everything except the windmill. The last layer was left in tact as the static part of the image.

Then I changed the colour mode: Menu > Image > Mode > Indexed... Chose the Optimised palette (animated Gifs can only be 255 colours).

Then, export as gif, choosing the animation option. Seemed to work OK.

What I need to figure out in GIMP, is how to apply colour effects to all layers. This does not seem to be something I can see how to do yet, hence the colour is just 'as is'.

Will try to do some more of these, as I quite like them. Better next time!

Saturday 6 April 2013

Macro Shots of Katydid(?)

Another few macro shots I took a while ago. Found this fella (or girl) sitting on top of my wheelie bin. I am not quite sure what it is and am struggling to identify it, so if someone recognises it, please leave a comment. I have seen a few of these.

So of course I stuck a camera in his face. What was quite amusing was that he/she seemed to get a bit offended and took an offensive stance and even seemed to make attacking type moves towards me as if to say 'piss off!'.

Anyway, click here for a few more shots.

Tuesday 8 January 2013


The Sun is ~1,392,684 km in diameter. That's hard to envisage.
The Earth is ~12,750 km in diameter. that's also hard to envisage (although, travelling around the World in a plane is kind of within our brain's capacity to envisage.
Pluto is ~2300 km in diameter. That's a decent plane flight, within distances we talk about on Earth, but still hard to visualise.

The distances between these bodies, I think, are too big to visualise;

Sun to Earth = ~150,000,000 km.
Sun to Pluto = ~ 5,874,000,000 km. (on average, it is an elliptical orbit)
Sun to nearest star (Proxima Centauri) = ~4.243 light years = ~ 40,142 x10^12 km = ~ 40,141,750,100,000 km (40 trillion km!)

For whatever reason (fun) it is interesting to scale things down to try and give perspective to these sizes and distances.

So, if the Sun was the size of a basketball (dia. 238.5mm) then the Earth would be ~2.2mm and located about 25.6m away. You can picture that. It might surprise a lot of people how much bigger the Sun is than the Earth and just how far away it is. Although now we start to have the reverse of the problem: realising how small a human is on that 2.2mm sized Earth!

Pluto is a mere ~0.4mm about the size of a grain of castor sugar (not granulated but castor - not sure about other places, but in the UK, castor sugar is finer than granulated - granulated is about 0.8mm diameter, hence 2x bigger than the scaled Pluto). Scaled Pluto is located 1km away from the basketball-sized sun! That's getting hard to picture. I can picture 1 km, but I can't picture a grain of sugar 1km away.

But the best bit is that the nearest star (Proxima Centauri) in this scale is a whopping 6875 km away! ****ing far, even on this scale!

Its this scale that so many people fail to realise. Its this scale that is going to keep the fantasy of travelling to distant planets and stars (and galaxies) exactly that, a fantasy, at least for a very long time until maybe one day technology moves somewhere that we just cannot predict yet. 

I don't want to seem negative, just realistic. I'll still enjoy science fiction.