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Monday, June 29, 2009

Not much Guinness, lots of Sea Bass

The only Guinness beer we saw was canned Guinness, freshly bought from a local supermarket together with a couple of bottles of wine to irrigate our dinner. There was no time for bars, Irish pubs or parties. Only fishing, fishing and a little bit more of fishing.

Three crazy guys came with me to this exploratory trip to the deep Irish south west. Galway, a paradise for sea bass, protected by strict laws enforced by the government. Fish that grow for the exclusive pleasure of recreational fisherman, without the use and abuse of the trade. In a country like Ireland where the money is not plentiful and the crisis is hammering hard, this is a real impressive result. The recreational fishermen are only entitled to two pieces per day and no nets, gillnets, trawls and long lines are affecting the stock.

So the hopes were high. The reports from friends who had been there previously were amazing and it was already time to park the heavy duty tackle for some lighter outfit. Oriol, Thomas and Mario were the lucky ones who shared with me these 4 intense, fruitful and enjoyable days. John was our guide and Lynn, his wife, tireless cook, terribly frightened by the amount of food the Spanish-Italian team could gobble each day.

After about two and a half hours drive from Shannon Airport and a flat tire, we were able to reach the cottage. A quick bite to calm the restless stomachs and after rigging the tackle we could finally go fishing. The first day was a little poor, with a couple of bass and one or two more bites. A good dinner and a deserved rest were needed to prepare the tired bodies for the next day, with a scary wake up call at 04:30 in the morning.

On our first full day of fishing, even arriving at dawn at the spot and despite of the efforts of the guide, the fish were still not participating. However, Oriol managed to land the largest piece of the week, but the team is far from being happy yet.

It was just the second full day of fishing that things began to cheer up. There were moments of frantic activity followed by sudden stops, all this due to the tides and the food that would concentrate or spread the fish. But we were staring seeing numbers at least. The double digits that my friends anticipated me before my trip were not a lie or a fisherman’s exaggeration, and the Irish Bass proved us that they can be very aggressive and fierce predators.

Fishing was mainly either on the surface with walking the dogs, or an inch below the water with soft plastics, especially Fin-S and the Super Fluke, basically because they were the only ones we had. I found a dog that worked wonderfully in a foggy morning. Could cast it where others failed and obviously had an action that our finned ladies liked very much. Climbed to the highest step of the podium and every minute his stock value was moving faster that the rate of oil.

There are plenty of Pollocks too. Unfortunately the photos I have are so pathetic that I will not dare to show them. Thus I do remember the panic of climbing up and down those high and steep cliffs under which where they live. It was scary. Fearful. Hopefully next time they will not see me wearing long neoprene waders with felt soles, thus I will be scared again, no shame to admit it.

I fished with two 7-foot Lamiglas travel rods which have worked wonderfully. The old series of Lamiglas Travel was quite bad but these have shown great qualities, both in casting and working the lures, exceeding the 8-foot rods that my friends were using. One is spinning, the XTC 704 able to toss lures up to 3/4oz and the other is the casting model XTC7025 with a lure rating up to 1 1/2oz. On the first one I put a reel a tad too big for it, the Certate 3500 Custom and on the second a Team Daiwa Luna 253, bait casting, which is a little gem. Tuf Line 20lb with 20/30lb leaders. Lures of the like of Spit'n Image, GunFish, Sammy, High Roller, and the vinyl discussed above.

I’ll close this post with the negative side of the trip. During a photo session on the shoreline, three flashes mounted on a Lastolite Tri-Flash and a Manfrotto 001 Stand decided to take a swim and got as fried as the eggs we would eat in the morning. After a couple of hours I slipped on a rock and the Nikon D80 with the Sigma 10-20 drunk a good pint of water and stopped working. Finally, the joke had cost me more than most expensive trip to the tropics and I only managed to keep working thanks to the old D70s and 18-200, a lens that I don’t love too much and no speedlights available to lit up a bit the images.

Yet I came back from Ireland happy. I made peace with the soft plastics, I returned to see a country I love a lot, and I fished light tackle, which ultimately gives me great satisfaction. To be 100% satisfied I need the camera and lens to survive the dive, I’ll know it in few days.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Graduated Filters

Even in this high speed developing digital era, filters are important. I have learnt it the hard way, by making mistakes, and improving by reading magazines, web sites and listening to the others. Thus, there are people who are not aware of this, even “specialist” photo retailers, check this out.

One day I was looking for my first Neutral Graduated Filter to buy and hopped into a Madrid shop. The lady at the desk looked at me with a strange face, as if I was asking for some weird sado-maso rubber accessory. “Now, with Photoshop, nobody uses filters, we don‘t sell them anymore, you don’t need them”. This translates into this: “Sorry buddy, I know nada de nada about photography and you also caught us out of stock because the manager of this shop is a plain idiot and has lost the plot.”

Fair enough, in Madrid there’s also a great photography outlet ( and you can find there everything you need. So I was pretty relieved when I finally found my Cokin ND filters and started playing with them. First I bought a Soft Grey Neutral (P121S), then a Medium Grey Neutral (P121M).
The image on the right has been shot with the Medium Grey Neutral.

After a while, let’s say few months, I grabbed a Hard Tobacco Grad (P125). I have seen photos in the mags and the web done with this filter and I loved the result, is quite addictive. In fact at the moment my number one choice, even though I resist myself to use it all the time for reasons you can easily understand.

The image on the left is the same as the one on the right but it has been shot with the Hard Graduated Tobaco Filter

More information on Cokin filters here:

Another nice thing I have learnt is that the Cokin filters holder comes in different versions. First of all, if you use lenses up to 82mm diameter you will need the P series. Now, from this series you have two holders to choose. The P Filter-Holder is good to stuck up to three filters but is a bad choice if you use ultra wide angle lenses. The edges of the holder sneak into the frame and I had to zoom to 14mm at least to get a clean image. Again, the clerk in Fotocasión, this time a good photog himself, showed me the right one: the P-Wide Angle Holder. Is thinner, and you can only slide in one filter but it allows you to shoot (on DX format) even at 11 or 12mm, or 10mm if you don’t mind cropping a bit the image later (it darkens the corners a bit). If you use FX or 35mm film Cokin suggests using it with 20mm filters (some more information here:

The reason why you want to use these filters is because, most of the time, while shooting landscapes, there will be a major difference in terms of exposure between the sky and the rest. Skies will be 1, 2, 3 or even 4 stop brighter than the land and if you don’t do HDR or don’t care for multiple exposures blending, either you use a filter or you’re doomed to an underexposed land or a washed out sky. The neutral density graduated filters will allow you to reduce this difference: the grey part of the filter will reduce the luminosity of the sky and the clear part will leave the exposure that you choose for the land untouched.

It is important to say that the graduated filters cannot always be used for every landscape shot. They are recommended in those situations where the edge between the land and the sky is flat, but if you have trees or mountains the filter will inevitably darken these too, and they won’t look too good.
See image on the right, the trees on the upper right are completely dark because of the use of a graduated filter

Photoshop can do way many things, and you are probably able to darken a sky up to a certain point, yet, I doubt you can recover burned highlights or a completely white sky. These filters don’t cost a fortune and they save your butt in a lot of good photographic situations. If you go to a shop and the clerk tells you that there’s no need for filters anymore, just do yourself a favour, change retailer….

Monday, June 8, 2009

Want to be a winner?

Is your ego big enough? Do you want to understand if your photos are good or bad? Get free critiques? Maybe improve your technique?

Check this out:

After a fast and painless registration process you can upload your first image and start receiving votes from the other members of the pool. There are several categories to choose and you will sure find your best. It is a give and take game, you will receive votes but you will also have to vote the other images.

The basic registration allows you for just one upload at the time and if your image wins you will have the chance to open another slot. Otherwise, you can buy a subscription, and you will be able to upload more photos and to see the statistics of the votes you are receiving. Subscriptions to this site are among the smartest and flexible around. You can subscribe from one month to lifetime, and the fees are very reasonable. You don’t go bankrupt if you want to give it a try

Now, you will find a vast, endless variety of photographic styles and skills. From snapshots to masterpieces, all in one web site, all in the same voting board. The good photog though are always on the main page with their winning images. There’s no prizes for the winners, just a bit of virtual glory and points you accumulate in your account, both for uploads and to grow your voting weight.
I’m there and I’m having fun, it steals you very little time and gives you a chance to put your photos and your hidden (or not so hidden) ego to a test.

Give it a try and enjoy yourself :-)

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

HDR? I'm going to think about it!

This is my first attempt to HDR using Photomatix (, probably the bets program around to edit your HDR photos. What is HDR? The word stands for High Dynamic Range and in very simple words it is the result of 3 or more images taken at different exposures and mixed together to achieve such an incredible dynamic range that most of the times neither the human eye is able to detect. For example one image is exposed for the shadows, one for the mid range and one for the highlights. The program blends them together and gives you a vast array of sliders to play with every aspect of the photo.

Usually the results look like a tad fake to me. People either overwork the images on purpose to achieve a specific effect, or they do it by misusing the program and create monster images, amazing to see but tiring, due to their non realistic look. The good ones, those who master the software, make great works, and I bow to them. Check out the HDR group in Flickr to see what this is all about.

I have tried with a couple of photos on the trial software, this is why it comes with a water mark, and finally decided to keep this one to show you. We are far from the editing of some stunning images, here I used the blending mode that is said to give the more realistic results and played very little with the sliders.

When I browse people’s work in Flickr ( am always a tad suspicious about HDR images. Being a bit on the conservative side, those photos look just stunning compared to the others and still I’m not sure if this is ok or not. Confused by progress, that’s what I think I’m suffering now but…let me learn how to use the machine from hell and I might become a great HDR fan… !