Category Archives: Uncategorized

Icy Blue

Icy Blue
Icy Blue

I think this one definitely falls in the Fine Art category and would look great on a wall.

It’s been a couple of weeks since I last posted thanks to a busy time and I was determined to have something original this time, but with nothing shot for the purpose. So, yesterday afternoon, on a bright cold day, I set out with no specific idea in mind to see what I could find that might be worth a blog story.

I had been told of a walk that led to some good clear vistas and I had a rough idea of maybe shooting a landscape of some sort, As I walked along there was nothing on the way suggesting itself to me and even worse, when I arrived at the point of view I was expecting, there really wasn’t anything special in it to suggest a decent photograph. The good weather and clear skies led to a fairly uninspiring outlook and I thought there was nothing there that would be at all different or worth writing about. I had reached the point of thinking I’d be scraping through the archive again and looking for something technical to write about, but thinking at least I’d had a good walk in the fresh air and felt all the better for that.

As I made my way back I detoured slightly onto a familiar route that I know from dog walks. This led me by a wee burn (“small brook”, if you prefer) where at the water’s edge there were patches of crystallized ice which grabbed my attention and I thought it was well worth capturing a few images. I wanted shots that were taken looking directly down on the ice so that I could make the most of the patterns. Below the ice and showing interesting colouration were some fallen leaves still in the water from autumn. I had wanted to control the depth of field and I also wanted to ensure that I had a fast enough shutter speed to capture shots clearly as I need to do this hand held. I was shooting at 55mm and opted for an aperture of f8 (round about the lens’ sweet spot) and a shutter speed of 1/125 sec. To get a decent exposure I set ISO to automatic and set about capturing some images.

As I shot the photos I was increasingly drawn to the patterning and colours which got me thinking in terms of a stylised image as the final product. Once I had the images into Lightroom I went through set giving them number gradings to help me narrow down to a preferred image to work on. I won’t trouble you with the details as it’s best with this kind of creative approach to just experiment and see if you can create what you have emerging in your mind. In broad terms getting to this final image required the following adjustments all done in Lightroom:

  • lens corrections
  • exposure
  • contrast
  • highlights
  • shadows
  • clarity
  • tone curve
  • colour channel adjustments (mostly hue – one saturation adjustment)
  • split toning
  • sharpening (with masking)
  • vignetting

That’s quite a lot of adjustments and as you go these accumulate so I think it’s always worth checking step by step and being prepared to go back and forth making fine tuning adjustments until you get what the result you are happy with.

So, a day that looked at one point looked like it would be little more than a good walk in the fresh air, returned an image I’m really pleased with. This is available to buy as a print and also as a ready to hang wall product. You can buy it securely from my website here.

(I should point out that the printed version doesn’t contain my logo or copyright watermarking)

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Rescuing an oldie

Lochnagar
Lochnagar

I was browsing through my old files today and came across this photo of Lochnagar which I had taken on 28 May 2010. The original shot was somewhat “thin” but I felt it offered some prospect of redemption so I opened the develop module in Lightroom and set to work.

Here’s the before and after comparison:

Lochnagar – before and after

I felt that this image would benefit from some “thickening” of the colours and contrast and also that the sky could made just a little more dramatic.

Here then, is the story of how I used Lightroom to go from the original to the final image.

The first thing I always do is to Enable Lens corrections and tick for that. I also usually tick to Remove chromatic aberration. After that I make sure the image is straight and then it’s off to the Basic panel.

Basic panel

Usually, this is a light touch approach in here, but this image needed more intense responses to get it to how I wanted it to look. I didn’t work down this panel in sequence but started with the exposure which just needed to come down a little. My next stop was to adjust the whites and blacks, increasing the whites and reducing the blacks until the points where clipping began and adjusting to just short of the clipping point. This already made a big difference. Next stop was to adjust both Clarity and Dehaze, working with both pretty much in tandem until the balance between the two was producing the effect I was looking for, Both of these are adusted here much more than I would normally be happy with, but the image did need it. Both also affect contrast and after experimenting with that a little, I left that slider alone and moved on to the Tone curve.

Tone curve

Here, as you can see, I made very slight adjustments to the dark tones and highlights for a very gentle S curve. I need to emphasise that in processing photos I am not looking for specific settings values but judge the effect being made by eye. I constantly look at before/after comparisons to see how the work is progressing. Next up was a little work on the colour channels where I wanted to enhance the sunlight falling on the corries and flank. And so to the HSL panel.

HSL panel

Here I felt I only needed to make slight adjustments to the red and orange channels where I pushed the hue on both a little more towards orange and then very slightly increased the saturation. Another check of the before/after comparison and I felt we were nearly there. The final destination was for some sharpening.

Detail pane

My approach here is to control the sharpening carefully. To do this I first apply just a little sharpening then holding down the Alt key inclrease the masking until I see only the white parts that I want to actually apply the sharpening to. For landscapes I tend also to reduce the radius to 0.5 and leave the detail as is. Again, holding down the Alt key for the black and white screen I adjust the Luminance to minimise grain (noise) to what I think is an acceptable level, The black and white screen allows this to be visualised more easily. This image also needed some colour noise reduction, probably as a result of the extent of the clarity and dehaze adjustments made earlier. Finally, I made a trip back to the Basic panel to cool the colour temperature just a tad. And that’s it.

It’s worthwhile revisiting old shots occasionally to see what’s there and what might be worth a little more editing work. It’s also good practice for the virtual darkroom.

Making the most of it

For the past three days I have been pretty much snowed in, thanks to the so-called “beast from the east”, a weather system originating in a polar vortex, apparently, which has brought sub-zero temperatures and very strong winds driving a dry powder snow. There are, therefore, lots of snow drifts. Where I live, in Fife, there have been no public service transport services these three days as we have gone from the Met Office issuing an amber warning to a red warning and back to amber. It can sound dramatic, but you just have to be sensible and in the midst of this I have a dog which needs to get out for exercise and “comfort” breaks.

This morning, whilst the wind was still strong there was much less snow in the air, so I decided to take my camera along for the walk to see what might be around and worth shooting. I was, if I’m honest, hoping to see some deer and other wildlife but, sadly, all I saw were some tracks in the snow where the deer had been. And so we pressed on with the walk and I started looking around for something in the intimate landscape that might be worth shooting. To be honest, the wider landscape was a world of grey and white, made all the more blurry by the now blowing snow.

Here though are a couple of shots I took this morning which I thought I’d share with you and say something about them.

trees; dead wood; winter; intimate landscape

winterwood

This is the first of the shots I though worthy of doing something with. It’s one of those compositions that just appeared unexpectedly. What I liked was the contrast of the bare wood from the dead tree against the darker background. With the snow being blown across the scene, I felt that a shutter speed just fast enough to minimise camera shake (I had to hand-hold and I was cold) but slow enough to slightly blur the flakes would potentially add some interest. I’m quite pleased with the result which is very close to what I envisaged at the time. For me, the effect of the snow adds a kind of impressionistic painterly effect to the shot which I find rather pleasing and the dead wood seems to stand defiantly against the elements. The two broken inwardly pointing branches also add a kind of framing and connection to the composition.

The route that I took this morning follows the line of a disused railway and I was still reflecting on the deer tracks and bemoaning not seeing any when I came across the railway; “aha”, I thought “tracks in the snow”…

railway; tracks; winter; landscape

tracks in the snow

Here, the old railway tracks were visible being in a more sheltered location. There was little colour on display here so, from the outset, I envisaged this as a monochrome composition. I did, as  always though, shoot in colour so that I had full control in post over how this rendered out to mono. I like the leading lines of the tracks taking the eye through the composition as they curve off towards the top of the frame. One of the challenges in getting this shot was keeping the dog out of it and having pristine snow laying between the rails.

In post, I decided to add a slight blue colour cast to the image, just to add to the  wintry feel of cold steel meandering through the snowy landscape.

Between taking these shots and getting to work in Lightroom, there was the small task of digging out the car and clearing the drive, but I think I managed to make the most of it.

Settings, bleh!

It’s kind of funny the way people are often interested in what camera settings you used. Do you find that?

It’s largely irrelevant, because you can’t go out to the same location at roughly (or even precisely) the same time of day, dial in the same settings and hope to get the same results. Why’s that then? Well, there are so many other variables: the weather conditions will affect the air quality and clarity, it may be overcast when originally it wasn’t, others will probably not be using the same camera and lens and even if they are, they might respond differently; and those are just some of the variables. On top of that there’s the post-processing to factor in.

What’s more important is knowing how to use your settings to get the results you want knowing how your particular kit behaves.

Let me talk you through the above three photos all of which were taken on the same night in Perth, Scotland. I had been to the location before with just my iPhone to take some scoping out shots and get a sense of what I wanted to come back and shoot properly. That pre-shoot visit was really helpful in allowing me to get a sense of how the lighting was working, the scale, and some preferred vantage points. Based on that, I began to think about what kind of shots I wanted to achieve and how I would go about getting them.

For the shots across the River Tay, I was certain that I wanted to soften the water and therefore blur the reflected light which would offer a contrast to the sharper definition on land. To achieve that, I knew I would need a long exposure. However, I also wanted to minimise grain (or noise, if you were raised in the digital age) which might be an issue with a long exposure at night. I opted to shoot at ISO 100, knowing that the relative lack of light sensitivity at this setting would push for a longer exposure. So, I’ve now considered ISO and exposure time (shutter speed) leaving the issue of aperture. Here, I was mainly concerned to shoot near the sweet spot of the lens, the aperture where the lens is sharpest and performs best. For the lens I was using that was going to be somewhere between f8 and f11. So, I opted for aperture priority, setting that to f10 on an ISO setting of 100. I then had a look to see what the camera was choosing for an exposure time. For both shots across the river, that was coming in at around 30 seconds which I was happy would be long enough for the effect I wanted, and so it turned out. Had it been longer, I might have had to consider changing the ISO. It’s a juggling act.

I used the same basic thought flow for the shot of the catering van but I wanted something more subtle here. The plan was to include some human interest but in a way that a slow exposure would blur the movement of the people. However, an exposure time of 30 seconds would be too long and could almost render the people invisible. I was looking for something nearer five to ten seconds, but also wanted to shoot within the sweet spot range and keep the ISO low. In the event, the lighting here allowed me to shoot at f8, stay at ISO 100 and get the kind of exposure time I needed. I’m certainly pleased with the result.

Post-processing was fairly light touch, really and done only in Lightroom. I’ll often use Photoshop for sharpening, but in this instance Lightroom did all I needed. One of the issues with night photography with the range of lights here, is that some areas had highlights that were just too bright so I needed to treat them specifically with the brush tool.

So, there you have it. Don’t be too bothered about what settings anyone used for their photos. I know it’s interesting and I’m as culpable as anyone for often providing that information, but it actually tells you relatively little that’s actually all that useful. Better to understand how to use the settings to achieve the shot you want, whether that’s in a very structured pre-planned way or in the moment when a composition lies before you.

Most of all, have fun and enjoy the good feeling of pulling off a photo just as you envisioned it.

Happy shooting.

A compromise of composition

Kelpies, sculpture, installation

The Kelpies

I don’t know about you, but I usually find myself bristling when I hear or read the words, “…it’s all about…” because I find it seldom is that exclusive. I was on the verge of titling this blog “it’s all about compromise” then had an argument with myself. I’m pleased to say I won.

I am not, therefore, going to say that photography is all about compromise, though that features in so many ways, not least finding the best compromise of ISO, aperture and shutter speed. What I will say, is that this blog is about the compromise of composition.

This was the third time I had photographed these magnificent sculptures called The Kelpies, but my first visit in winter. I like to find different ways of seeing and photographing subjects so set out to look for something unusual. Walking round the side I notices a canal boat moored up with smoke  rising from it’s chimney. I thought that might offer an interesting composition contrasting the ephemeral nature of the smoke with the solidity of the Kelpies.  How then, did this end up as a compromise of composition? Ideally, I’d have preferred to position the boat more between the sculptures to balance the scene a little more and provide more of a leading line. I was physically unable to do so as, to get more to the right, I would need to climb a fence and engage in trespass, which I thought to be a bad idea. That said, had I been able to position the boat as I wanted, I’d have lost contrast on the smoke with it positioned against the sky, and it was the smoke that had captured my compositional attention. I did feel, however, that the fading daylight in the background offered an interesting contre-jour shot and the grey of the winter sky reflected the steel construction of the Kelpies.

The grasses on the left of shot are also something of a compromise. Ideally, I’d have left them out of shot but it wasn’t possible to do so on location with the lens I was using. I debated removing them in Photoshop but decided to leave them in as I didn’t feel they were too distracting. I did, however, remove a lighting pole which was directly in line with one of the Kelpies and definitely spoiled the shot. One compositional advantage of shooting from behind, is that I eliminated the power lines and pylons which are in full view from in front.

I think the lesson here is to accept that sometimes, maybe more often than not, we photographers have to accept compromise in our compositions and the job is to make the best of what we see. Personally, I like to do that with the least manipulation in post.

This was shot at ISO-400, 1/000 sec, f/8 with a focal length of 18mm. I used an auto white balance with the intention of colour correcting in Lightroom if necessary. I used Lightroom to make basic adjustments to highlights, contrast and toning (among others) and used Photoshop to remove the troublesome lighting pole.

iPhone only

Of course, it’s popular for photographers to say it’s not the camera that makes the picture but the photographer. Fair enough but if there’s no camera, there’s no photograph. I’ve often used the analogy that you can put a formula one driver in a basic car and they’ll get the very best out of it but if you put a novice driver in an F1 car, all manner of mayhem is likely to follow. Mistakes will only be exaggerated. So it is with photography. It’s important to be able to visualise photographs and then know how to capture them on any camera.

So, just for fun, here is a selection of photographs I’ve taken at the seaside using only my iPhone and edited in Lightroom mobile.

red rock

rocky shore

soft rock

velvety rocks

morning glory

seaside sunrise

colourful jellyfish

cosmic jellyfish

water on sand

natural fractals

moonlight reflection

moonlit shore

clouds and sea

water above and water below

seaside rainbow

rainbow

At the end of the day

sunset figure

at the end of the day

At the end of the day, this was a little tricky but it’s exactly the shot I wanted to achieve.

My daughter had suggested we take an evening walk up White Horse Hill near Uffington in Oxfordshire. Having taken a few photographs already, I spotted her crouching with her iPhone taking a photo. The setting sun was behind and I thought it would be interesting to take a shot into the light – the old contre-jour technique. I deliberately positioned myself so that the sun was mostly obscured. Of course, you have to be careful doing this, looking directly at the sun is really to be avoided even through a camera viewfinder.

I liked the effect of the back lighting in situ and wanted to capture as much of that as possible in the photo. It’s important to get as much right in camera as possible so I shot for the result I wanted so that post-production work was kept minimal. As ever, I shot in RAW and, in this instance exposed for mid-ground ie the near hillside. The editing consisted of using both Lightroom and Photoshop. In Lightroom, I made some adjustments for light clipping by reducing highlights and I also lifted the shadows a little to make sure there was clear detail on the shirt. I also made some minor adjustments to contrast and exposure. I then did some fine tuning in Photoshop where I also sharpened the image and enhanced some of the colouring.

This was shot at 1/125sec on ISO-100 at f/7.1 on a focal length of 35mm.