MID LIFE CYCLING - 2020 BLOG

MID LIFE CYCLING 2020 - THE COVID YEAR!

This is the second year of the Mid Life Cycling Blog and what a year 2020 has been with the covid-19 global pandemic. The year started off normally in the UK but by February things were starting to deteriorate as infections rose and lockdowns loomed. In early March I made the decision to work from home full time which was about a week before the office was officially closed. Living with someone who is high risk and shielding has been very challenging and scary at times but somehow we have survived 2020 without catching covid. Working from home had its advantage of being able to cycle more  after work . At first, for about 4 to 5 weeks I didn't take the risk on my bike, it just didn't feel right, but eventually I ventured out locally on 10th April. Whilst I had set a goal of 1500 miles for the year this was not achieved due to weather, work limitations and just trying to be sensible in a pandemic. Below are my stats for the year.

Total No of Rides = 33 (up 5 on 2019)

Total mileage = 1155 miles at 16.1mph average (up 100 miles on 2019)

I managed 12 rides at the start of the summer on the Trek Madone as I was still preparing the Emonda for the summer. Apart from bottle cages, spare tubes, pump, 11-32 cassette etc added to the bike I also wanted to try waxing the chain requiring pots, wax and a slow cooker to be purchased. The first ride on the Emonda finally happened with a Frodsham loop at the end of May and all I can say is WOW! The 54cm frame is spot on for me, the bike is light and very responsive and I really enjoy the double groupset with no issues on the climbs yet. A top spec bike which was a total steal! The problem now is that the this has now highlighted the issues with the 2007 Madone i.e. the triple 9 speed groupset (aahh!), 56cm frame too big, old geometry and handlebars and the links to Lance with the discovery team colours.

A new project I started during my rides in 2020 to break the boredom of riding the same roads was to photograph the bike next to post boxes. You will be amazed how many boxes there are especially dotted around the back lanes and small villages. This year I have captured 45 post boxes so far and i will try and continue this in coming years as abit of an adventure and to break up the rides. A few new routes were added including Walton and then Delph Lane climb which I managed to eventually get into the top 50 leader board and hope to improve on. I also varied my return back into Lymm via Knutsford and Tatton when I could but these can be busy roads with some close passes occuring. As the summer came to a close I put the emonda to bed and got back on the Madone and suffered a muddy puncture on my final ride.

In other bike related matters, I sold the MTB as it was not being used and i am not keen on cycling in the mud and wet during the winter. I managed to purchase a new cycle jersey from 'share the damn road' which is based on giving 1.5m clearance. I only wore it a couple of times and I didn't notice a huge difference. I experienced a few close passes this year and this was mainly on the road between Comberbach and Great Budworth for some reason. I am going to start riding with a gopro in 2021, mainly so that I can upload these drivers and they can be dealt with by the police. Attitudes on the UK roads need to change for the better. It was great to see alot of families out on bikes on the lanes after the first lockdown but it didn't last as councils chickened out of improving cycle infrastructure permanently. At the end of December 2091, I joined North Cheshire Clarion cycling club but with the pandemic I was unable to undertake my introduction rides or go on any club runs.

The final project for 2020 and into 2021 is the new shed/workshop/bike store in the garden. The old shed has been replaced with a 14x9' apex workshop from Omlpian Garden Buildings which is being fitted out to be a secure bike store, workshop and mini gym and indoor training area. The challenge for 2021 will be to get my hands on a wahoo kickr and start some early training and climbs to help shed those kgs!

Lets hope 2021 is a better with more miles, hills, post boxes and maybe even a Clarion ride!

 

 

LIMITED EDITION PRINTS

PANORAMIC

Sycamore Gap Infra Red.

 

BUY PRINT

 

Victoria Clock Tower in Liverpool, UK

BUY PRINT

 

Queen Elizabeth Cruise Ship and Mersey Ferry, Liverpool

BUY PRINT

 

Departing, Crosby Liverpool, UK

BUY PRINT

 

Angel Wings, Liverpool UK

BUY PRINT

 

Three Graces, Pier Head, Liverpool, UK

BUY PRINT

 

Point of Ayr Lighthouse, Dee Estuary, Infra Red

BUY PRINT

 

Floating Market, Thailand

BUY PRINT

 

 

BLOG 10 - SIZE DOESN'T MATTER

SIZE DOESN'T MATTER - STARTS ON 23rd July 2018

As I turned left on my way to work past Liverpool John Moore’s University onto Leeds Street, up the hill towards my normal wasteland car park behind the YMCA, I saw the Cunard cruise ship Queen Elizabeth docking at the Cruise Terminal Berth. It was unmistakable with her super structure and bright red chimneys towering above the skyline. After parking the car and walking to office as normal I started thinking that this was a great photo opportunity that couldn’t be missed.

I checked her departure time which was confirmed as the evening high tide and then it was a discussion with the office director that this was a photo opportunity too good to miss. I work for a company of consulting engineers in Liverpool undertaking a lot of work with the Port, Cruise Terminal etc. so there was general interest in the Queen Elizabeth’s arrival. Lunchtime came and I dashed back to my car, drove home to collect may camera equipment then returned to work fo a couple more hours.

My plan was to take some images form the Birkenhead side of the river looking back to the pier head whilst Queen Elizabeth was still moored on the berth. Then with time to spare I was going to drive to New Brighton and capture some images as she passed the docks and progressed out to sea. The images from Birkenhead all went well until just as I was packing up the Mersey Ferry crossed the river towards the Seacombe terminal. I quickly grabbed my camera and took some hand-held images with the ferry and QE in shot.

 

Panaromic image crop

To cut a long story short, the images from New Brighton were not as good. The navigation channel in the Mersey is close to the docks so it did not look as impressive from a distance. Overall, it was a successful day confirmed when I downloaded the images for processing.

Move forward to 2019 and the office conference room had undergone a refurbishment and a large blank white wall presented itself. A perfect wall for a nice large image of the Queen Elizabeth and Mersey Ferry! The office director agreed and left it to me to find a printer, sort format, style etc.

Find a printer! So the print was going to be big, approximately 2.4m by 0.9m which is not a standard for most graphic printing companies. I also ideally wanted to use a local firm so that we could check quality etc and not rely on a print turning up blind in the post. After a lot of online searching, a local company was identified who could produce a custom print the size we required. We visited their premises to see the various finishes, boards, mounts, Perspex etc and make our final decision which was Perspex. The print file was prepared and sent, invoice paid and we just had to wait for delivery.

This is when the fun began and is why I have not named the printing company. We had a deadline to hit as there was a senior management meeting being held at the office and the print need to be hanging by them. As the deadline approached there was no news of the print or responses to emails and phone messages. Finally, the print was ready for collection the lunch time before the deadline and a manic afternoon was spent drilling a lot of holes for fixing the print. It was a faff and the type of hangers chosen provided very little tolerance for such a large print.

Following the management meeting it became evident that the print quality was not as expected and some bubbling and grain was evident. The view was the adhesion of the print to the Perspex had been rushed and hence the quality failure. The replacement print did not have these issues but the hanging system eventually failed resulting in the print falling form the wall and suffering some minor damage. A replacement set of hanging clips were provided and there have been no further problems.

Move forward to February 2020 and the remaining office space underwent refurbishment and after long protracted discussion, with everyone in the office having a different opinion, we decided on 3 large panoramic prints for the walls. We did go back to the same printers but this time the prints were to be DiBond with a rail hanging system and I stipulated that I would personally inspect them before dispatch. The prints are now hanging up in the office and look great with no hassle this time.

Inspecting the prints at the printers

DiBond prints hanging in the office

The point of this blog is to demonstrate the image size, resolution, megapixels etc are not important. All 4 prints were 2.4m in length which is larger than most prints you will produce and have in your house. Nobody has commented on image print quality or resolution and nobody knew two of the images were taken on film. The image resolutions with both film and digital were as follows:

  • Queen Elizabeth Print – 36mp Nikon digital file
  • 3 Graces and Angel Wings – 35mm film Xpan (65mm) scanned
  • Point of Ayr Lighthouse – 12mp Nikon IR digital file

I can guarantee you cannot tell the difference between the prints when you look at them. The IR image was taken on a Nikon D300 IR converted camera over 10 years old. 12mpg produces a 2.4m print!!

12MP to 2.4m print - no problem

For all of you chasing 40-50mp cameras or saying cameras with small sensor or low resolution can’t make big prints, wake up your wasting your time.

My advice for making large prints, check the prints at the printers with a technician before they are dispatched. Make sure the fixings are robust and easy to install, I would recommend a hanging rail or external clips. 

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BLOG 11 - A LINE IN THE SAND

AUGUST 2020 - A NEW START

In the UK we have emerged from our first Covid-19 lock down and we are trying to return to a normal life as best we can before the second wave. It has been a frustrating time, scary at times but also a time to reflect and take stock. I have made the most of working from home and some good weather and been cycling more on my road bike. My photography has been on the back burner for a while even before covid and a couple of weeks ago I asked myself when did I last take a photograph?

The last street images I took in Liverpool were in May 2019 with the only other images of HMS Prince of Wales aircraft carrier when it visited Liverpool in March 2020. I had provided 3 large prints for the office refurbishment earlier in the year which I think look really good (in my opinion!) see Blog 10.

I chose to sell the Fujifilm X100F earlier in the year as it was sitting getting dusty in the cupboard and was not being used. It needed to go to a better home. There was nothing wrong with the camera, it actually a very good camera and is great for ‘streets’ and day to day photos. I have the new X100V on the bucket list for the future.

Reflection

I have spent some time of the last few weeks looking at my photographs from the last 20 years and I have come to a number of conclusions:

  • Too much variety and different genres
  • I am not a landscape photographer
  • I am not a ‘street’ photographer
  • MY IMAGES ARE NOT GOOD ENOUGH

The last one is quite a big one but I have to be honest with myself. I do have some images that just about make the grade but overall the standard of the images is just not good enough. Good enough for what though? I don’t enter competitions so that is not really the issue. I just think overall I want to raise my game and image quality. I also think that the standard of digital photography has influenced this opinion of my previous images.

Landscape photography is not for me and I have tried, but all I end up doing is taking images of rocks and water falls. I have also tried ‘street’ photography and I did not like the covert feeling and the lack of contact or connection with the subject. For example, here is a picture of someone walking in/out of a strong shadow, who? Don’t know. Street photography has become more popular in recent years but it is not easy and I think just walking down the street snapping everything and everyone is not what it is about.

For me there has to be a story or connection with the location and or subject. Whether you call this documentary, reportage or whatever I think the photography is stronger. If you listen t Steve McCurry interviews, one of the greatest photographers of our time, he says there must be a connection between photographer and subject. Even if this is a nod, a smile or a discussion before or after the image is taken there is at least something and not just a blind snap.

So how do I fix my own dilemma?

A new start is required, I have to draw a line under all my previous images, genres, approaches etc and start a fresh. This is not straightforward as I am still going through a back log of scanning old negatives and slides for processing. I am also completing my digital versions of my darkroom print lectures of Bangkok and Thailnd in B&W. Once these are done then the line in the sand will be drawn and the door closed. Move on!

So my initial thoughts and the cunning plan is as follows:

  • Work on projects
  • Quality not quantity
  • Create a style
  • Digital Xpan to continue
  • Its not about the gear – keep it simple
  • Create a consistent workflow for post processing
  • Do not share on social media early
  • Buy a photo book every month
  • Print or create books of work
  • Takes photos 4 ME

Realistically it may be 2021 before I can really start to get back to some normality assuming covid has diminished.

I have written down a few ideas on the ‘projects’ and these may include adding to some existing images I have. Being able to travel will also be key to some of these projects.

With regards to having a consistent workflow I have been thinking hard on this one. To date my workflow has been mainly in Lightroom with some use of Topaz clarity and B&W plugins. The majority of this processing has been on film scans so I have not utilised the full potential of Lightroom. I hardly ever use Photoshop to be honest and it has advanced a lot in recent upgrades I would be lost with undergoing training.

There is also the issue of Fujifilm raw files and the infamous ‘worms’ in Lightroom. When I purchased the X-T3 I was unaware that Lightroom did not process the X-trans sensor images as well as other software packages. At the moment, my intention is to develop my workflow in Capture One for all new Fuji images going forward and also using Silver Efex for B&W images.

On the gear front, I want to purchase some prime lenses for the X-T3 and an X100V for when travel returns to normal. I have even been considering buying another D810 as I now appreciate the image quality and ease of processing but have forgotten carrying the heavy 2kg body and lens around!

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BLOG 09 - THE DIGITAL XPAN

HOW TO CREATE DIGITAL XPAN IMAGES

Quite a controversial title for an article. There will be a lot of Xpan owners and traditionalists who will be already warming up their key boards to send me emails complaining about associating the word ‘digital’ with the Xpan. Please stop typing and hear me out.

The Xpan was, and still is, an amazing camera which allows both normal 4:3 and panoramic images 3:1 to be taken on 35mm film. The camera is slightly larger than a normal rangefinder but is easy to use and you see through the viewfinder in panoramic format. One of the downsides of the camera is its weight, it is not the lightest at 950g. The Xpan has become quite a trendy and a collectable camera especially for street and documentary genres and therefore the prices in the second hand market continues to rise. If you want to progress into panoramic photography and you don’t have a spare £2.5k to hand, are there any cheaper alternatives?

Yes, there are but be careful who you tell! The first obvious answer is the digital panoramic stitch which is made a lot easier nowadays with the many software packages available. These are great for landscape or ‘still’ images where nothing is moving that will affect the image. You set the camera up on a stable level tripod and take a number of overlapping images. These stitched images can be very large and require more computer processing power and storage. However, stitching images is not an option if you are capturing ‘moments’ on the street for example.

The Ratio

The Xpan frame is 65mm by 24mm and this equates to a crop ratio of 2.7:1 i.e. the horizontal frame length is 2.7 times longer than the vertical. The frame size is not 16:9 (widescreen) which is 1.7:1 nor is it the commonly referenced 3:1 ratio.

The only option remaining is to capture the image with the ‘normal’ camera aspect ratio, typically at 3:2 ratio or 4:3 for medium format, and then crop in the post processing. Modern sensors provide more than enough resolution and dynamic range for this crop to still look reasonable. The downside is unless you have a very well-trained eye you are not really able to ‘see’ the image in the panoramic format at the decisive moment.

Digital cameras do have crop options in the menu system which allows the image to be cropped in camera but nearly all cameras do not include the 2.7:1 ratio. The Hasselblad X1D and the Fujifilm GFX50S & R cameras do have the option to crop to 1:2.7 in camera but these cameras with a lens will still cost more than two xpans! (or an xpan and a scanner). Fujifilm cameras also have an option to create a sweep panoramic image. I have only tried this once and it was not that successful, user error as the shutter speed was too low. This is definitely something I would like to try further for static images as creating the panoramic in camera saves a lot of post processing time.

Therefore, the solution to creating a digital xpan where you can see the image is to have a look in the camera menu options. Most digital cameras have the option to add a grid system to the screen display, whether this is on the back screen or in the viewfinder. The Fujifilm cameras there are a number of grid configurations:

Grid 9 (standard) – Splits the viewfinder into thirds. The central band gives a crop factor of 1:4.5, see image below

Grid 24 – Splits the viewfinder into 4x6 grid. The central two bands give a crop factor of 1:3, see image below.

By using the grid 24 option, the two central zones provide guide lines on a 3:1 ratio so I can ‘see’ the panoramic image in the viewfinder. Sometime the grid lines are not that easy to see, depending on the subject matter, but they are there for guidance and as there is no cropping in camera the crop can be adjusted in Lightroom afterwards. Here is an example of the view finder if you ignore the upper and lower grid cells to create the panoramic crop.

 

 

 The two images below provide a working example of taking an image full frame using the 24 grid option to create a panoramic image. This is a street image taken near Liverpool Cathedral with this lady sitting between the two blue doors. As a 'normal'  image it does not work as there is no balance due to the grass, handrail and alot of pavement. But I framed this image using the central grid with the two blue doors at either end of the pano crop. Whilst it is not a competition winner the image is more balanced and works.

If you are a Nikon camera owner, another option is to mark up the Nikon plastic screen protector with panoramic frames. I have done this previously just using a sharpie pen on the inside (so it doesn’t rub off as easily) or using black insulating tape as a black out. This method is really only useful if you are shooting in live view or for chimping images after they are taken.

Cropping in Lightroom or other software packages in normally straight forward with custom setting at 1:2.7 being saved for future use. I have often found I have needed to straighten images so make sure your horizons are horizontal and your verticals are vertical. The crop will accentuate any misalignment especially when you print and frame.

Whilst using the words ‘digital’ and xpan in the same sentence is controversial, it is a solution to producing pano images without the expense of the xpan, film, processing, scanning etc. Panoramic images are great fun to produce and can be addictive.

See more examples of the digital xpan in the Gallery - Project Xpan Digital

 

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