The Old Man of Binnian?

The Old Man of Binnian? Yes, I just made it up. But I've seen worse.

The Old Man of Binnian? Yes, I just made it up. But I’ve seen worse.

We’ve got The Old Man of Hoy and The Old Man of Storr, and so on, and if you believe everything you read on the Internet, when you look at the Mourne Mountains from the north you might see a man lying down who has Slieve Binnian for a face. He has my sympathy—I’m heading that way myself.

Recently I was making my way off Binnian and glanced back—something photographers should be in the habit of doing. Back up the track a big boulder seemed to have a face of sorts. So I christened it, The Old Man of Binnian. It’ll do me. What do you think?

I increased the saturation in the sky to add useful detail for the black and white conversion.

Earlier, after heavy clouds had lifted, and the temperature too, I’d sat down and rested among the heather not far from Binnian Lough.

The sun finally breaks through over Binnian Lough.

The sun finally breaks through over Binnian Lough.

Greencastle, County Down

Walking below the old wooden pier in Greencastle suggested it was held together by seaweed and 100 dead starfish. But it’s stronger than it looks. I know that because a group of sturdy sailor blokes in luminous jackets walked the length of it and sailed off in a wee boat. If it’s good enough for them…

The top image shows the view from beside the pier looking out towards Haulbowline Lighthouse, a B+ listed structure “of special architectural or historic interest”. (County Down has 164 Grade B+ listed buildings, don’t you know.)

The rugged wooden pier in Greencastle, festooned with seaweed and starfish.

The rugged wooden pier in Greencastle, festooned with seaweed and starfish.

Before I fired the shutter I was quickly thinking ahead to how the shot might be processed. The original image was one of 3 that were deliberately underexposed to hold detail in the early morning sky, but in this one I got it wrong and went too far. Worse still, it was the only image were the composition seemed ideal. Each boat was turning about in the current and in this shot everything lined up diagonally across the entire frame, from the distant lighthouse to the white buoy.

To get a reasonable result, everything but the sky was processed in Lightroom to lift the tones and mimic a much better exposure. The processed data was saved as a TIFF and opened in Corel PHOTO-PAINT, a program I first used in 1990. I’ve often used Corel’s Object Transparency Tool to fade a shot to clear in a layer placed exactly over a background image that’s been processed ignoring the sky. (Adobe probably has a similar tool.)

Working in Corel PHOTO-PAINT.

Working in Corel PHOTO-PAINT.

It can occasionally be an advantage having all the image tones to work with rather than bluntly darkening the original with a digital graduated effect. In this case I loaded the identical JPEG version over the processed TIFF, faded it appropriately, worked at a few other details and eventually combined the layer and background together.

There are other ways to do this—and better ways no doubt—using a variety of techniques and programs, but this is what worked for me. Topaz ReMask is certainly worth looking at. Pricey though.





About and Contact


1) From SLRs To A Mirrorless System
2) Capturing Seasonal Light
3) Nothing Worth Doing Is Easy (Photography’s Testing Learning Curve)
4) The Negative Advantage (Shooting Colour Negative Film)
5) Pet Practice (Practising Photography On Your Pets)
6) Under the Christmas Day Moon (Extending DR While Handholding)
7) The Top of Ireland (Shooting The Highest Places In Ireland)
8) Gadgetitis and Photography’s Big Spenders (Don’t Be A Gearhead!)
9) Lose the Dead Shots (Just Keep the Good Photos)
10) Take a Balanced Approach to White Balance
11) RAW and JPEG: What’s Your Preference?
12) Metering Modes
13) Grips for the Fujifilm X-E2 and X-E1
14) Control the Range of Focus (Understanding Depth-of-Field)
15) Winter Apples (Making An Arty Image)
16) Murlough Bay, County Antrim (A Scenic Location To Shoot)
17) Can Composition Be Taught?
18) Something Lasting (A Triptych From A Consumer Camera)
19) A Camera To Paint With (The Camera Obscura)


1) Rethinking Outer Space (Is Space Exploration Worth It?)
2) The Mint Below the Seat (A Personal Collection of Poems)
3) Colour Will Be the New Black (Why Tyres Are Black)
4) Fit, or Fit For Nothing? (Keeping Fit With Free-standing Weights)
5) A Ruined House in County Donegal (Losing Irish Vernacular Houses)
6) In The Mourne Mountains: Trassey to Corragh (Video-making)
7) Silly Island (On Dementia)
8) The Border Terrier (History and Hunting, and Not Stripping Him)
We Could All Do Better:
9) Darrow: The People Person
10) The Golden Rule Pass (Mutual Respect)
11) Bad Behaviour Is Never A Mistake (Guilty As Charged)


1) Rock
2) Misty Cottage
3) Art In Glass
4) Hare’s Gap
5) Famine Wall (and other images)
6) Inner Glow
7) Pink
8) Dead Wood
9) Slieve Foye
10) Murlough Bay
11) Torr Head
12) Seeing the Moment








I worked at the Fujifilm .RAF original (see below) for an age in Lightroom but couldn’t exactly get the sky detail I needed. Maybe an expert could do better.

Eventually I gave up and switched to the plug-in Topaz B&W Effects which managed to dig out useful detail in the sky without harming the image anywhere else.

Fantastic view from the top!




Rethinking Outer Space

Far out

Far out

Despite having been hooked on the glamour of it all, I’ve found there’s something vaguely unsettling about the philosophy that drives our need to explore the universe. In fact, I’m not so sure it’s really “our” need at all.

When I was barely out of shorts I was captivated by moon missions, lunar landscapes and thrilling detailed images sent back to earth across millions of miles of cold, empty space. But somewhere along the way the appeal has lost its shine. It seems I’ve legitimately been developing an alternative philosophy of my own. It turns out I’ve no fundamental interest in crossing the frontiers of space. But for decades I was led to believe I should. So it was time for a rethink.

It’s too easy to buy into a pattern of misinformed cynicism and negative criticism. But even so, I’ve now decided that the tangible returns from decades of commitment to space projects is a mere sideshow when measured against the mind-boggling expense. OK, I freely confess: I can still get a thrill from exciting pictures taken in space, but I now sober up quite quickly. With my feet back on the ground I’m forced to remember that suffering earth is riddled with issues that need ameliorated sooner rather than later. It’s a part of the anti-space cliché, but it’s valid.

I’m sure you would agree that from childhood astronomy is very much in our faces. We get it fed to us at school and in the media. But what is it? Do we really know what astronomy is all about? Why does space exploration happen? What’s the philosophical motivation that simmers away in the background? Well, here’s one version of it:

“Why do we study the planets? Why do we study astronomy at all? We someday need to go beyond the planet Earth if we expect to survive as a species for a very long time. We need to know what’s out there and what the nature of the Universe is” (Meers Openheim, Boston University).

And here’s another: “If the human race is to continue for another million years, we will have to boldly go where no one has gone before. Spreading out into space will completely change the future of the human race and maybe determine if we have any future at all. We could have a base on the Moon within 30 years, reach Mars in 50 years and explore the moons of our outer planets in 200 years” (Stephen Hawking). Is this little more than a disquieting flight of fancy?

It’s been claimed that space exploration tells us a lot about our planet and its environment. But over the years I’ve balanced myself out and now question the value and practical usefulness of much of this knowledge. To what extent does it impact and enrich our daily lives? And even if we reap tangible benefits, are they all really worth the colossal expenditure? How much money needs to be spent? Shouldn’t we be asking what scientific research can actually accomplish here on Planet Earth by comparison?

Trite questions?

The picture that heads out this essay was taken by the famous (and arguably infamous) Hubble telescope. It was pointed at a really small area of black space and over 400 orbits it recorded 800 exposures lasting 11.3 days. This is very far back in time. Experts believe it to be “the time shortly after the big bang when the first stars reheated the cold, dark universe.”

The final image you see above, which shows around 10,000 galaxies, is in fact two separate images taken by Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) and the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-object Spectrometer (NICMOS). The NICMOS reveals the farthest galaxies ever seen.

Although the hi-tech Hubble Telescope is said to have enhanced “our” understanding of astronomy, the astronomical cost is an uncomfortable legacy. Originally estimated at a total cost of $400 million, “…US expenditure is currently an estimated 4.5 to 6 billion US$” (Hubble Information Centre). That’s billion. Does this matter? And to be specific, does it matter to you?

The Hubble Telescope

The Hubble Telescope

We want to believe our space scientists have skills and knowledge that are grounded in documented experimentation and its proven results. But should we blithely accept all of their opinions and recommendations? I’d say not. Can we apportion blame here? Space scientists bond loyally in-house. They are bound together in one big fraternity. They effectively confirm one another’s legitimacy without being usefully accountable to those outside the loop. Where is the policing here?

Is there anything wrong with me asking why we are spending billions in the hope we can secure our long-term survival “out there”? And here’s another question: Should entrenched space exploration philosophy be supported and funded by our governments to the current extent? Financing space fantasists isn’t an option.

Finding real answers to these questions isn’t easy for the common cynic. Some with their feet rooted firmly on the ground remain unconvinced by many of the pro-space arguments they are hearing. But perhaps they are just uninformed philistines who believe bedfellows astronomy and space exploration have been out of control for decades.

I’m no longer entranced by this so-called thrilling ride into outer space. On the contrary, I have legitimate concerns. It goes against the grain, but I don’t “need to know what’s out there”. I’m not alone in this. Many are much more concerned with what’s going on down here. Inner space needs more work.

They often think the world would have been a better place if the hundreds of billions that have been spent on space exploration and research had been intelligently funnelled into health, care of the elderly, emergency services, education, unemployment, the Third World, urban development and local community programmes. Those in favour of space exploration are surely tired hearing this line of reasoning. Perhaps there are good reasons why it’s heard over and over, year after year.

There’s sometimes a lot wrong with how governments allocate funds. But even so, if the will is there to stand up and make brave decisions, prioritisation strategies become essential. Recent history shows that few politicians[1] have grasped the nettle. We shouldn’t wonder at this — political clout matters to leading space scientists. If nothing else many of their jobs may depend on it! It doesn’t help that space program ideology is deeply entrenched in our western psyche and actual infrastructures are well established.

Thanks to a global financial downturn, pegging back the world’s unnecessary budgeting habits became a reality. It must have been bad news for proponents of space exploration. Forgive me voicing the cliché another way: We need to get funding that’s mainly centered on our earthly problems rather than falling into the trap of spending billions trying to solve heavenly riddles. We are losing out to expensive obsessions.

Advocates of space exploration and research may well point to the number of people who are employed in the industry. “Jobs are good,” they say. Well yes, but is this a totally logical line of reasoning? Not really. Couldn’t we justify pornography in much the same way? In California alone the porn industry employs 12,000 people, but unlike many space-related initiatives it isn’t financed by vast sums of public money. Both are addictive and controversial.

The “Wow!” factor of space bewitches even intelligent people. (It happened to me, if I qualify as intelligent.) It’s fantastic! It’s right next door to science fiction! In fact, the distinction between the two may get a little blurred. We need to step back. Stephen, we may not need to boldly go anywhere.

Speaking to protesters before the launch of Apollo 11 in 1969, Thomas Paine, NASA’s administrator, said, “…if we could solve the problems of poverty by not pushing the button to launch men to the moon tomorrow, then we would not push that button.” At best this is a peculiar logic, justifying a massive and questionable expense ($35 billion) because it would allegedly have little impact if spent differently. Is that the point? And of course, the issue isn’t just poverty. Cherished predilections can easily blind us to the bigger picture.

Paine, who was already getting carried away thinking of a $10 billion trip to Mars[2], suggested to the protesters that NASA might be able to help address our problems some day. But what do we find? Over four decades later we continue to hand out billions to space scientists so they can satisfy their curiosity. Exploring Saturn’s biggest moon Titan is a particularly good example. They hope to send some kind of incredibly expensive submarine to it, and according to a very enthusiastic member of the mission team, “That first picture from a submarine… on the surface, on a sea, on another planet in our solar system, changes the world… That is why we do any of this… That first picture alone makes the entire mission worth it” (Michael Paul, Director of Space Systems, Penn State University). Changes whose world? What planet is he on?

Let’s not forget that the outrageously expensive space race of the 50s and 60s was fuelled by Cold War paranoia. Everything possible was done to better the perceived achievements of the Red Menace in Moscow. Prestige was paramount. A huge amount of cash was handed over to scientists and the military to further develop the V-2 rockets originally designed in Nazi Germany and dropped with deadly warheads on Britain. Sound scientific reasoning was virtually nonexistent, not that it mattered. Getting a man on the Moon became synonymous with global superiority:

Prestige, a thing which neither filled bellies, nor kept people warm, nor kept predators at bay, was suddenly the number one priority of an embattled nation… If the United States wanted to regain world prestige lost to the Russians because of their achievements in space, it should embark now on a trip to the moon. Here was a race that Americans might just be able to win…Few paused to consider how walking around on the Moon in a space suit brought progress to mankind. How, exactly, did it help the starving in Africa?…

Whitney Young of the National Urban League, commented at the time… “A circus act. A marvellous trick that leaves their poverty untouched. It will cost thirty-five billion dollars to put two men on the Moon. It would take ten billion to lift every poor person in this country above the official poverty standard this year. Something is wrong somewhere” (extracts from Gerard DeGroot’s Dark Side of the Moon: The Magnificent Madness of the American Lunar Quest).

On the 12th September 1962 President Kennedy made a speech in which he famously said, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade…” But it’s been said that in private he asked his advisers, “Can you fellows invent some other race here on Earth that will do some good?” (Rocket Men, by Craig Nelson.)

I remember coming across an online essay that attempted to defend space exploration expenditure by highlighting how others spend their cash and how governments generally allocate funds. The author (a big fan of science fiction it should be noted) defended space ‘investment’ by pointing to society’s wastefulness in general.

Stop the bus! This is an astonishing opinion when you think it through. Two wrongs will never make a right, not even in space. Why not justify NASA’s funding by highlighting the fact that the Pentagon’s annual space budget has been even higher? Or how about the mega-fortune spent globally on junk food that’s literally killing millions each year? A daft rationale if ever I heard one. No, we must assess this problem on its own merit.

(As a sobering aside on the subject of waste – several years ago “workers at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama accidentally threw away parts of the International Space Station worth almost $1 million” [James Oberg, Houston, we have a problem, New Scientist magazine, April 2000]. And let’s not forget the $100,000 toolkit lost in space.[3])

No doubt somebody will pull text off the pro-space sites and tell us that we’ve got better frying pans (a myth in fact), stronger hip replacement joints and indestructible materials for bulletproof jackets worn in Iraq, or whatever it is. Someone’s sure to mention how lucrative moon-mining could be – but the logistics!

Of course, it’s not all bad news. It’s true that we now have thermal blankets (opportunistically shown by NASA wrapped around earthquake victims), improved defence technologies and scientific satellites providing indispensable telecommunications and vitally monitoring earth’s weather patterns and solar storms. And so on. We can appreciate such benefits. But the glowing PR can have a hollow ring to those whose thinking isn’t compromised by bias and favouritism.

The claims that there have been over 1000 spin-offs are possibly accurate, but where in the world are we going if we think such productivity gives credence to the lavishly financed space sciences as a whole? It’s both logical and realistic to assume that billions can be intelligently and systematically ploughed into scientific invention and innovation here on terra firma. We really don’t need the prop of most space-related endeavours to get the job done, so crowing about it can be considered something of a ruse.

The selfish need to do very expensive stuff in space is the mother of NASA’s contributions[4]. It’s a fact that there are brainy highly qualified people in silly hairnets in labs who will deliver similar results in most fields if only they could get the resources they need. When Hitler took a shine to Europe his enemies employed big brains to come up with some great technological advances that drove him back into his bunker. Let’s hope we don’t have to rely on WW3 for the next far-reaching wave of revolutionary science and engineering. Perhaps we shouldn’t be looking into space either.

Spotty Jupiter

Spotty Jupiter

Space exploration and astronomy are arresting subjects. It’s certainly interesting seeing pictures from the edge of the universe. It was fun watching the Great Red Spot swirling about in Jupiter’s poisonous soup. But my mother just lost a lifelong friend to an incurable illness. Where on earth do our priorities lie?

Lifeless on Mars

Lifeless on Mars
Photographs captured on other planets are the most expensive in history. This is Mars of course, an endless rocky desert as lifeless as a prehistoric fossil, but even so our scientists are spending huge sums primarily to discover just how dead it really is. This is part of a composite image of Victoria Crater taken by NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity. The far side of the crater is about half a mile away. At one time there were a couple of these machines beavering away in the iron-red dust. To date each cost around $400 million to develop, test, build, deploy and utilise. Naturally, being unique to the mission, the digital cameras on each Rover don’t come cheap. Due to the extreme conditions they don’t have mechanical shutters, adjustable apertures or delicate focussing mechanisms. Each camera has a 12x12mm 1MP CCD sensor that delivers high quality images.

[1] “The Space Shuttle is the most effective device known to man for destroying dollar bills” (congressman Dana Rohrabacher).
[2] It’s worrying that someone in such a position of authority as Paine should fantasise about getting to Mars as early as 1983. Today such a mission would cost countless $billions. If it never happens (which is probable) $10s millions will ultimately be wasted in R&D.
[3] In November 2008 spacewalker Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper let a tool bag float off into space. “Despite my little hiccup, or major hiccup, I think we did a good job out there,” she said.
[4] To date NASA (an agency of the United States government) has received over $430 billion (actual dollars) since it was established in 1958. It currently gets a staggering $17 billion each year from the United States federal budget. Its percentage of the overall budget is low, a fact used by many supporters of space sciences and exploration to justify the expense. But, inevitably, they present the stats in a way that serves their bias. It’s a colossal government budget to start with. Emphasising NASA’s .7% share can never mask the fact that annually it soaks up a stupendous amount of public money.




Vintage Petrol Pump

Believe it or not, these things are highly collectable, but not in this condition. It’s doubtful the most avid collectors of pre-WW2 (hand-operated?) petrol pumps would bother with this one. It looks like it’s been stoically rooted at the roadside for many decades taking all that life and the harsh Irish weather can throw at it.

One thing’s for sure—on the day it was first installed there wouldn’t have been much passing by on the narrow road that would have needed its fuel. There was a much slower pace of country life back then.




Off-colour Fujifilm X-E2 Harebell

An August display of Harebell wild flowers and Bell Heather on the slopes of Slieve Foye, Carlingford, Co. Louth, Ireland. Everything was swaying about and bobbing up and down in the breeze, so I was glad of the bright conditions and fast lens that allowed me to shoot at 1/2000th sec, f2.8. Fujifilm X-E2, Fujinon XF 35mm f1.4 R.

There was a wonderful mid-morning swathe of sunlit colour on the warm slopes of Slieve Foye—too good to miss. But when I turned my back to the sun and checked my shots on-screen I was disappointed that some of the colour had shifted noticeably.

The unedited Provia/standard original (see below) had coped reasonably well with the heather and grass, but made a mess of the Harebell petal’s subtle shade of mauve/blue. It’s an issue that reminded me of my early film days when I shot bluebells and struggled to get anything close to the actual colour. The delicate hue shifted to a sickly purple. Looking online and referencing a few of my books I see that I’m not the only one to get off-colour results straight from the camera.

I got the Harebell blues. The colour shift is disappointing, but like most things, it’s fixable—to a point. Colour fidelity is a bit hit and miss across a wide range of devices and monitors and TV screens. Yes, everything should be accurately calibrated, of course, but getting close to nature’s subtle colours in processing is tricky. If you’re lucky you’ll see Harebell colour on this page that’s reasonably close.

I loaded the RAW image of the above shot into the latest version of the free software I’d downloaded from Fujifilm. Eventually I got the result you see at the top of the page. But the next morning I was back at the computer with a fresh approach to Fujifilm’s film simulations and realised that the Classic Chrome colour rendition seemed close, though much too diluted. When I pumped up the saturation level and made a few other fine colour adjustments the result looked better on my Asus monitor than my first attempt. How does it look for you?

Fujifilm’s Classic Chrome RAW film simulation with increased saturation and adjustments to the “Fine color controller”. Ironically, Fujifilm say Classic Chrome “has gained popularity, especially among street and documentary photographers.” Well, maybe it has a place in some landscape photography contexts too.

Slieve Foye was covered in vibrant colour.

The view down from the lower slopes of Slieve Foye across Carlingford Lough towards Greencastle.