Dr. Garret FitzgeraldI’m still about a month behind when it comes to processing my shots, but I am now fully up to date with special trains, at least until the special next Saturday :)

Anyway, on the 5th of May 2012 the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland (RPSI) ran a special train to commemorate Dr. Garret Fitzgerald, who passed away last year. Dr. Fitzgerald was a very well respected former Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister), as well as a former president of the National University of Ireland, and, a former Vice President of the RPSI. It’s because of this link to the RPSI that the organisation paid him this tribute.

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RPSI No.461I’m still struggling to get up to date with processing my shots, but I am getting closer to caught up than I was a month ago, so things are heading in the right direction at least :).

Last time I reported on a steam special (the Maynooth Shuttles), it was to, yet again, say that, despite our hopes, newly over-hauled steam loco No.461 couldn’t make it. Well, that finally changed this time, when she worked her first passenger-carrying train from Dublin in over a decade. She’s not quite running smoothly yet though, clocking up some very significant delays on this rail tour. Still, at least she’s out pulling trains on the main line!

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RPSI Maynooth Shuttle I’m still continuing to get caught up with processing and editing my photos and videos from the last few months. Over the weekend I finished working on the media I shot on the 3rd of March when the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland (RPSI) ran two “Maynooth Shuttle” steam specials from Pearse station in Dublin to Maynooth and back.

Having missed the 2011 Santa Specials because of technical issues, recently overhauled ex-DSER (Dublin South Eastern Railway) loco No.461 was suppose to make it’s return to Dublin for these shuttles after a 10 year absence, but, alas, it wasn’t to be. The weekend before the specials she encountered some more technical difficulties on her way from RPSI headquarters in Whitehead near Belfast down to Dublin. No.461 did eventually make it out to Maynooth the next day on an empty driver training run, though even that was not an unmitigated success because she was supposed to run all the way to Enfied, but only made it to Maynooth! Still, by early April she was finally ready, and she worked the Spare Link rail tour over two days (pictures and video coming soon).

With No.461′s on-going problems, RPSI stalwart loco No.186 stood in for her on the Maynooth Shuttles. Through no fault of No.186 the morning shuttle was over an hour late. Apparently someone had carelessly parked a track maintenance vehicle in front of the turntable in Dublin-Connolly station, so No.186 had to run the whole way around (and partially under) Dublin city to get to the nearest alternative turntable in Dublin-Heuston on the south-side of the city.

Still – it was a good day in all, with some lovely sunny periods between some very heavy showers!

You can see all my shots from the day on Flickr where I’ve collected them into a set.

Flickr Set

As well as shooting Stills with my trusty Nikon D40, I also shot some video on my new Nikon D5100 (and my iPhone 4 when the D5100′s battery died). I’ve edited the video and some of the stills together into a movie of the day’s events which I’ve uploaded to my YouTube Channel. I’ve embedded the video below for convenience:

RPSI Santa SpecialEach year the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland (RPSI) runs two sets of “Santa Specials”, one set operating out of Belfast, the other, out of Dublin. In general, the RPSI try to have two steam trains certified for use one the mainline at all times, one based in Whitehead near Belfast, and one based in Dublin. This means that in general, there is a steam train available to operate each of the two sets of Santa Specials.

2011 was not a normal year though. The venerable steam locomotive No.4′s boiler certificate had expired in the summer, before work was finished on former DESR loco No.461 which was due to replace it. It was hoped that No.461 would be ready to work the Santa Specials from Dublin by December, but it wasn’t to be, she failed to perform on her trials, and had to go back to Whitehead for more work. She’s in service now, but her debut was not until March 2012. This meant that, for a change, the Dublin Santa Specials would be worked by Irish Rail diesel locomotives.

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A Perfect Evening in CartonSomething I like to do at the end of every year is look back at how my photography has evolved over the year. I find it helpful to take the time to reflect, and I think it helps me to keep developing my skills and my style.

It’s been a funny year for me, having struggled all year with health issues, but I still managed to keep taking photos, even if I did it less often, and even if my Photo of the Week segment on this blog fell into dereliction. Most of my photography this year was done while out on my doctor-mandated exercise routine, so more then normal, my shots all gravitate around the Royal Canal, and later in the year, also Carton Estate (after I discovered the great trails the estate has to offer). There were also strangely few shots taken in St. Patrick’s College, which was once one of my favourite muses.

In some ways it was a very evolutionary year for me, rather than a revolutionary one, I focused mostly on my on-going projects, trains, nature macros, and the Royal Canal, and didn’t really start any new projects. I also spent time re-visiting my experiments with long exposure shots, and also paid a lot of renewed attention to including the Moon in my shots, particularly in the second half of the year. I guess the most dramatic changes are that I’ve updated my HDR workflow in such a way that I find I get better results in situations with mixed white balances, and I’ve definitely made more of an effort to re-visit interesting places when the light is good, rather than making do with OK light. Read more

This week I’ve chosen my favourite shot of the lovely Bramble flower (Rubus fruticosus agg.). These beautiful flowers will grow into nice juicy blackberries in the autumn. What I like about this shot is the dark background, as well as how it shows both the leaf and the flower.

Bramble Flower
on FlickrFull-Size

  • Camera: Nikon D40
  • Lens: Nikon DX AFS 55-200mm
  • Exposure: 1/640 sec
  • Focal Length: 135mm
  • Focal Ratio: f/8
  • ISO: 400
  • Camera Mode: Aperture Priority
  • Exposure Bias: -1.0ev

I spent so much energy writing my big HDR article last weekend that I didn’t get around to posting my Photo of the Week, so another double post this week to catch up. I thought I’d stick to the theme of HDR, and also pick two shots of the same subject, the Royal Canal. This canal is very special to me as it’s where I get most of my exercise, and the vast majority of my nature photos, as well as many of my railway shots too! I do a lot of pseudo-HDR shots where I tonemap single RAW images, but I hardly ever take the time to create ‘true’ HDRs by combining multiple separate exposures. Last month, for the first time in ages, I spent some time shooting some ‘real’ HDRs, and these two are my favourites.

The first is a very low-key naturalistic HDR showing two boats moored above the 14th lock on the Royal Canal at Jackson’s Bridge near Maynooth as a spring sun sets. This HDR was generated from four brackets.

Sunset at the 14th Lock
on FlickrFull-Size

  • Camera: Nikon D40
  • Lens: Nikon DX AFS 18-55mm (D40 kit lens)
  • Exposure:
    • Bracket 1: 1/100
    • Bracket 2: 1/200
    • Bracket 3: 1/400
    • Bracket 4: 1/800
  • Focal Length: 22mm
  • Focal Ratio: f/11
  • ISO: 400
  • Camera Mode: Full Manual
  • Processing: created by combining four RAW images into a single tonemap in Photomatix Pro, then running that tonemap through Topaz Adjust before importing into Aperture 3 for a few final tweaks

The second shot I’ve chosen was processed to capture the feeling and atmosphere of the scene, rather than to capture it exactly as it looked to the eye. This is a much more extravagant HDR, and perhaps a little hyper-real. It was the absolute sea of Dandelion seed heads and the reflection of the setting sun in the water that caught my eye and inspired me to stop and set up my the tripod for a full HDR. This beautiful stretch of the canal is located between Maynooth village and Jackson’s Bridge, and the wall running along the canal here is the boundary wall for St. Patrick’s College (SPCM). This shot was also generated from 4 brackets.

Sunset on the Royal Canal
on FlickrFull-Size

  • Camera: Nikon D40
  • Lens: Nikon DX AFS 18-55mm (D40 kit lens)
  • Exposure:
    • Bracket 1: 1/50
    • Bracket 2: 1/100
    • Bracket 3: 1/200
    • Bracket 4: 1/400
  • Focal Length: 42mm
  • Focal Ratio: f/8
  • ISO: 200
  • Camera Mode: Full Manual
  • Processing: created by combining four RAW images into a single tonemap in Photomatix Pro, then running that tonemap through Topaz Adjust before importing into Aperture 3 for a few final tweaks

Another double post this week, no real excuse for being late other than not being well. As always with double-posts, I’ve picked a theme, and since it’s been a long time since I shared a butterfly shot, that’s the theme I chose.

The first shot I’ve chosen is the best shot I’ve managed to get (so far) of the Ringlet Butterfly (Aphantopus hyperantus). Although this butterfly is listed in books as quite common, I’ve not come across many of them around Maynooth, and those few I have come across have been very restless and easily frightened, so they proved difficult to photograph. After much persistence I did manage to get this shot though, which I’m rather happy with.

Ringlet Butterfly
on FlickrFull-Size

  • Camera: Nikon D40
  • Lens: Nikon DX AFS 55-200mm
  • Exposure: 1/320 sec
  • Focal Length: 200mm
  • Focal Ratio: f/5.6
  • ISO: 200
  • Camera Mode: Full Manual
  • Processing: Apart from the usual basic tweaks in Aperture this shot was also tweaked a little using Aperture’s Dodge & Burn plugin.

The second shot is of one of my favourite butterflies, the beautiful Common Blue Butterfly (Polyommatus icarus). These guys are the complete inverse of the Ringlet Butterfly. They are not at all easily frightened and will happily sit there and let you shoot away for ages. They also love basking in the late afternoon sun, which is the absolute perfect light for photography. I don’t know of any other species in Ireland that’s as friendly to photographers as the Common Blue.

Common Blue Butterfly
on FlickrFull-Size

  • Camera: Nikon D40
  • Lens: Nikon DX AFS 55-200mm
  • Exposure: 1/1000 sec
  • Focal Length: 200mm
  • Focal Ratio: f/5.6
  • ISO: 400
  • Camera Mode: Aperture Priority

I was bold again last weekend so this is yet another double post to get caught up again. The theme for this post is the new(ish) Irish Rail Class 22000 InterCity trainsets. These modern looking diesel multiple units have now replaced more traditional locomotive-hauled trains on the majority of Ireland’s InterCity routes. As well as being quite fast (rated to 100 miles an hour in Ireland), they also have plugs at every table, and are both quiet and comfortable. A nice modern addition to the Irish Rail fleet, at least from a passenger point of view. The die-hard train spotters all hate them for not being locomotives of course, but change always comes hard to fanatics. Personally, I love to travel on them and I think they look good and are very photogenic, so put me down as a fan :)

This first shot was taken on a beautiful summer evening and shows No.22043 rounding a corner at about 80mph as it approaches Maynooth with an InterCity service from Sligo to Dublin. The unit was quite new when this shot was taken, but already one of the covers for its couplers was missing.

Irish Rail Class 22000
on FlickrFull-Size

  • Camera: Nikon D40
  • Lens: Nikon DX AFS 55-200mm
  • Exposure: 1/640 sec
  • Focal Length: 165mm
  • Focal Ratio: f/5.3
  • ISO: 400
  • Camera Mode: Full Manual
  • Processing: tonemapped lightly with Topaz Adjust, then tweaked a little using the built-in Dodge & Burn plugin in Aperture 2

The second shot is a more recent one, taken on a lovely spring evening this February, and shows the same trainset, this time approaching Pike Bridge with an InterCity service from Dublin to Sligo.

Irish Rail Class 22000
on FlickrFull-Size

  • Camera: Nikon D40
  • Lens: Sigma EX 30mm f/1.4 DC HSM
  • Exposure: 1/200 sec
  • Focal Length: 30mm
  • Focal Ratio: f/3.5
  • ISO: 200
  • Camera Mode: Full Manual
  • Processing: created by tonemapping a single RAW image with Photomatix Pro, tweaking the result with the Topaz Adjust 4 plugin, and finally making a few small adjustments in Aperture 3

It’s been a while since I missed a week, but I didn’t get around to posting a Photo of the Week the last two weekends, so this is a double-post to get caught up. As is my tradition with multiple posts, these are two related pictures – very related in fact, being two different renderings of the same picture!

The shot was taken on a fantastic summer day over-looking a field of Rape-seed flowers with an ancient ring fort in the left mid-ground, and the ruins of Rathcoffey Castle on the horizon.

The colour version was generated by tonemapping a single RAW image with Photomatix and Topaz Adjust, while the monocrhome version takes the colour version as it’s starting point before using the channel mixer in Aperture to convert it to a nice contrasty black and white shot.

Rathcoffey in Summer
on FlickrFull-Size

  • Camera: Nikon D40
  • Lens: Nikon DX AFS 18-55mm (D40 kit lens)
  • Exposure: 1/800 sec
  • Focal Length: 18mm
  • Focal Ratio: f/8
  • ISO: 200
  • Camera Mode: Aperture Priority
  • Processing: created by tonemapping a single RAW image with Photomatix Pro, tweaking the result with the Topaz Adjust 4 plugin, and finally making a few small fixes with Aperture’s built-in Dodge & Burn plugin

Summer in Rathcoffey
on FlickrFull-Size

  • Camera: Nikon D40
  • Lens: Nikon DX AFS 18-55mm (D40 kit lens)
  • Exposure: 1/800 sec
  • Focal Length: 18mm
  • Focal Ratio: f/8
  • ISO: 200
  • Camera Mode: Aperture Priority
  • Processing: created by tonemapping a single RAW image with Photomatix Pro, tweaking the result with the Topaz Adjust 4 plugin, and finally making a few small fixes with Aperture’s built-in Dodge & Burn plugin before using Aperture’s Channel Mixer brick to convert the image to monochrome
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