Is it raining again? I hear you ask. Well here is what the observatory said:

Screen Shot 2013-04-05 at 09.32.22

Note – Amber Rainstorm and Thunderstorm warnings. As we breakfasted this morning we could have been forgiven for thinking that the end of the world was in progress. Outside it was as black as a Johnny Cash outfit and the deluge so heavy that there was an inch of rain visible on top of the lawn. Good gardening weather, I’m sure Walter Gabriel would have said.

But luckily, in true Blue Peter fashion, here’s one I made earlier. And not a trace of sticky back plastic. Images from those halcyon days of summer when we dawdled our way through Florence, Venice and Rome. Just like Zebedee we fell in love with Florence. Here she is in all her black and white beauty.


Reflections of Florence

Florentine statue

Florentine view



Despite a fairly full schedule booked for today I had to cry off as my illness hasn’t run its course yet. I know I am getting better but its just too slow for my liking. Maybe tomorrow. In the meantime I did not have my haircut today, I didn’t do any of the other chores I intended and I have not been out with a camera. Because my throat is still sore I have also eschewed coffee for several days and that is beginning to annoy me. I need my Nespresso fix.

My usual recourse is “tidying up”. Dead days see me clearing the desk in my study for the umpteenth time and the usual mutterings of “so that’s where that went!” I always find something to throw away and the order lasts a good 72 hours before the clutter creeps up on me again. I do have some ‘moth pots’ on the desk that have been there for months and I must empty them out and clean them. I am happy to relate that they do not contain dead moths but small samples of fungi I collected to ID some time ago. I really must get round to it. I’m sure it was only April when I collected them.

I have also trawled the financial sites, trying to work out whether we are just seeing the start of a modest correction or the bears are back in town. I feel good that I sold my Apple shares before the recent down tick and I have plenty of powder dry in the pension fund to buy if the prices correct further. I have been waiting for a pullback in several defensive stocks for some time but so far they have not reached my buy target. Many good dividend stocks are now overbought in my view. I suspect that the inch by inch crawl forward will continue with occasional hiccups but US politics scares the pants off me. I am reasonably apolitical so I don’t have strong views on Obama or Romney in that sense although I confess I find Romney a rather daunting prospect as President. Anybody who says he is going to declare China a currency manipulator as his first act as President surely has no clue about the real world. I would like to think it is all hot air and of course I believe we are still waiting for Obama to close Guantanamo……….. but if there is another paralyzed parliament then the prospect of compromise over the fiscal cliff will become more elusive. In the meantime if I ever need reminding that we are all doomed I turn to my learned friend Satyajit Das. He posted this recently and it is well worth a read but don’t expect too many laughs. Das is one of the best after dinner speakers I know. A fine mind, cutting with both wit and analytics and an excellent companion with whom to discuss birding and eco-travel.

And so I came back to my catalogue of images. A little pruning here was in order too. Then I found an image I have played with on many occasions. I don’t know why I am drawn to it so strongly. On the face of it it is nothing special but I am always fascinated by the face in the window.

Here is an earlier version:

And here is this morning’s rework:

The most obvious change is the B&W conversion. I had always wanted to preserve the colours that scream Florence (or at least Italy) at me. However the more I experiment with monochrome the more I enjoy the flexibility of tone, grain and contrast. I feel I get more detail out of black and white. But I have also corrected some of the perspective distortion created by the angle of view. That forces a crop that makes the woman at the window bigger in the frame. It is more obvious that she is behind a barred window and I always wonder why they needed to put the bars there in the first place. Is she a mysterious captive, puffing on her cigarette, looking disconsolately down at the free flowing passage of humanity. Are the bars original or recent? Who is she and what is the story of her life? Maybe I need to write a book about her.

I am sure this is an image I will work again and again. If you have thoughts on the image or indeed the woman at the window, do please share them.

Lightroom 4 – quick reaction to the upgrade

I first used Lightroom when it was in V2 and I subsequently upgraded to V3. I am always fairly skeptical about the cost benefit equation of upgrades so when V4 was announced I downloaded on a 30 day trial rather than jumping in to buy immediately. Well we retired chaps don’t have money to burn. I followed a few threads on various fora and watched the Adobe videos. The upgrade is pitched at a reasonable price all things considered, US$79 or here in HK, HK$705. That means Adobe has pitched the price higher here and it refused to allow me to buy from the USA site, cunning devils. We have no GST or VAT so its pure higher margin to Adobe as far as I can tell. Nevertheless it is not enough for me to go off in a huff. What almost made me go off in a huff was that I could not find LR4 on the HK site. It is there now but it did not seem to be last week. Perhaps we have to queue to pay our premium.

The development module has the principal changes as you might expect. The ability to manage dynamic range, the extreme contrasts between shadows and highlights has been significantly improved. I find the sliders more sensitive in some areas such as contrast but more finely tuned in others. The ability to drag detail out of the shadows is now excellent and a noise slider has been within the basic panel. This means you can use the noise reduction brush on the areas where you have lifted the shadow detail and you don’t need to impact the whole image. It is also much better at rescuing blown out highlights. I like the idea that I can now use the tone curve on individual colour channels as well.

A feature that many people will welcome is the ability under the Lens Corrections module to Remove Chromatic Aberration. I have not tested this yet but the tutorial video looks quite convincing. You do seem to need, understandably, to have a lens, the profile of which is recognized by LR4. I tried it on an image taken with my small Lumix LX5 and it didn’t seem to do anything.

I put the programme to the test on some old images that I would probably not otherwise have processed. The proof of this is that I took them with my old Canon 30D on a holiday to Italy in 2008 and each of the images below was untouched since downloading!

See what you think of the end results:






Gull posing


The Grand Canal


The latest fashion in headgear..... a pigeon


The Trevi Fountain - early morning

And just to test the black and white capability:

The Spanish Steps

So do I like the new version of Lightroom……? Well I do. Very much. Even for a non power user like me it gives me a better chance of delivering an acceptable outcome and it rescues pictures I would not previously attempt to use. There will always be images where the highlights are so blown they are just too far gone and shadows where there is no detail to be extracted but LR4 probably reduces the universe of images that will go into the trash can.