Category Archives: water

In it together – apart

Solitude

We’re all in it together – apart!

I live in Scotland where the current advice for people who do not have any Covid-19 symptoms is to practice social distancing. Briefly, and quoting from NHS Inform Scotland, that advice is to:

  1. Avoid contact with someone who is displaying symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) – these symptoms include high temperature and/or new and continuous cough
  2. Avoid non-essential use of public transport – when possible, alter your travel times to avoid rush hour
  3. Work from home, where possible – your employer should support you to do this
  4. Avoid large gatherings
  5. Avoid gatherings in smaller public spaces such as pubs, cinemas, restaurants, theatres, bars and clubs
  6. Avoid gatherings with friends and family – keep in touch using remote technology such as phone, internet, and social media
  7. Use telephone or online services to contact your GP or other essential services

So, yesterday, feeling hale and hearty, I decided I should follow this advice but also get some fresh air and do some photography in the great outdoors. A fine activity when my commercial work is somewhat slowing down in the current climate.

So, I got in the car (2 – tick) and set off for the picturesque East Neuk of Fife, very near where I live. I was never within less than about 3 metres from anyone and all of this was outdoors (1- tick). I moved between the great outdoors and the car (4, 5 – tick) and used a hand gel each time I entered or left the car (bonus tick). I think, therefore, I managed to have some good and productive time out whilst keeping on the right side of the social distancing guidance.

I ventured round Elie, Pittenweem and Anstruther and bagged a whole series of shots much of which I broadly had in mind before I set out but the one that speaks most to me is the one that was opportunistic and which I have titled “soiltude”.

As I was walking uphill on the coastal path I spotted this lone kayaker out on the Firth of Forth. It just seemed to capture for me, something of the sense of “self-isolating” which is the phrase of the day. At the same time, it also looked like a peaceful and serene way to spend some time alone. There’s already talk in the media that perhaps the phrase “self-isolating” is portraying negatively which is partly why I titled the photograph “solitude”. This sounds more like a positive sense of being alone and having time and space to reflect.

I like the negative space* in this photo which represents not only the physical space around the kayaker but also the space to be and to think. Space we often desire away from the madding crowd.

This photo doesn’t need pin sharp detail – it’s all about conveying a mood or feeling. Consequently the processing was fairly light and I’ll take you through what I did. First, here’s a before and after comparison:

I wanted a slightly brighter, slightly bluer image so here’s a quick run-down of the editing which was all done in Lightroom:

  • First up – apply lens correction and remove chromatic aberration
  • exposure +0.5
  • clarity +9
  • dehaze +14
  • vibrance +15
  • white balance customised to 5855 (temp) – slightly cooling from as shot
  • applied a medium contrast tone curve
  • colours:
    • Aqua hue +12; saturation +12
    • Blue hue -9; saturation +20
  • detail – heavy masking (94) to isolate the outline of the kayaker then:
    • sharpening amount 82
    • radius 0.5
    • noise reduction – luminance 31

And that’s it.

The image was captured on a Canon EOS 7D with a 55-200mm lens shooting at 200mm and the settings were:

  • ISO 250
  • 1/1000 sec
  • f11

*Negative space, in art, is the space around and between the subject(s) of an image.

A long exposure

Lady Anstruther’s Tower

It was a day I just needed to get out with the camera to do some landscape work. It was cold and breezy as I scouted around looking for something inspiring and I reached the point of thinking that even if I didn’t come back with a shot, at least I was enjoying some fresh air and feeling invigorated.

I ended up back at a favourite location at Elie in the East Neuk of Fife and I wondered if I might get something slightly different this time. I’ve photographed Lady Anstruther’s Tower several times and on this occasion, it didn’t look all that inspiring but I was determined to try to find something a little different. Then I spotted a piece of ground which looked tailor made as a point to shoot from. This being December in Scotland, the sun never gets all that high in the sky and its low position here was casting an interesting light onto the tower and showing a clear line where the shore dropped into shadow. The water was relatively calm with only small wind-generated waves out in the Firth of Forth and the clouds were also fairly slow moving. I thought that a long exposure in these conditions would deliver just enough softening to the sea and sky to contrast with the hardness of the stone tower and rock promontory.

So, with fingers nipping in the cold breeze, I set up the tripod, popped on the camera, framed the shot and took an exposure reading before then locking off the focus and popping on a ten-stop ND filter.

After adjusting for the filter, the exposure settings were:

79 seconds at f22 with an ISO of 100. With a long exposure I tend to go for a narrow aperture which, especially with a landscape, increases the depth of field and is also a little bit of a safeguard should the focus slip slightly during set-up or exposure. I keep the ISO as low as I can to minimise any noise.

With regard to processing, everything was done in Lightroom. As always, I apply lens corrections and remove chromatic aberrations. I also ensured that the horizon was straight, though I try to make sure of this in camera, especially when using a tripod.

I then gave this a little bit of an HDR treatment by massively reducing the highlights and boosting the shadows I added some clarity and vibrance to help with the colouring and gently tweaked the white balance. I also made some gentle tone curve adjustments which gave the image a slightly richer feeling. All of that meant a slight increase in overall exposure by just under half a stop. Finally I sharpened but increased the masking so that pretty much only the edges were being sharpened. I pulled the radius down to 0.5 and left the detail at 25. The logo was applied as part of the export settings.

In the end, I quite like the overall effect of the contrast between the softened sky and water with the hardness of the tower and rock. I also like the alignment of two windows in the tower providing a clear view through which, for me, adds to the overall composition and was something I wanted to achieve so I had to find just the right spot on the small piece of ground I had to work with.

As much as I enjoyed the fresh air and the walk, it was good to come back with a shot I’m happy with.

Falls of Bruar

The Falls of Bruar, Perthshire

Falls of Bruar

Last week I was in Perthshire for a break featuring some rest and relaxation and time to read. Of course, a photographer is never really taking a break from capturing images but I was there with no fixed plan only my gear and a loose intention to get any images on an opportunistic basis. Most days were wet and more conducive to reading than photography.

On this day, however, my wife and I decided to head to Killicrankie where I thought I might get a shot or two, which I did. After that, however, we decided to head a little north to the House of Bruar for some refreshment. I remembered there were signs to the falls of Bruar so we set off up the path with the dog and I got a couple of images I like, including this one.

I know these long exposure shots of waterfalls are something of a cliché but what captured my attention here was the swirling water at the pool below the waterfall and I thought that might make for an interesting feature. The late autumn colours were vibrant and the very diffused daylight was giving them something of a gentle glow.

I chose to shoot this at f11 to provide a decent depth of field but stay close to the sweet spot of the lens. I wanted a long exposure, so from there I opted for an ISO of 100 and added an ND filter giving me a final exposure time of eight seconds. That’s been long enough to soften the cascade and capture the swirl in the lower pool. I’m pleased with the contrast between the softness of the water and the sharp detail in the rock. There’s also a glow in the water to the top of the pool which reveals the clear but peaty-brown nature of the water. I’m almost back there.

…and a tripod was pretty essential.

If you think this photo would brighten up a wall in your home or office it’s available as a fine art print from my website. Go on, treat yourself or someone else…

Thanks for reading – if you like this, please let me know.

Estuary sunrise

sunrise over the Forth estuary

estuary sunrise

Another one from the archive, this was shot at 08:23 hrs on 08 December 2017 using my smart-phone. I really like the colours and simple composition of the open space and it was interesting to revisit the editing process so I thought I might share that and walk you through what I did with this one.

This was entirely processed in Lightroom Classic CC and typically of my work flow I started with lens corrections ticking on both:

  • Remove Chromatic Aberration, and
  • Enable Profile Corrections

Next stop in the process was the basic tab where I:

  • reduced the exposure very slightly (-0.12)
  • increased the contrast a little
  • dropped the highlights significantly (-75)
  • lightened the shadows significantly (+57)
  • moderately lightened the blacks (+31)
  • added clarity (+36)
  • increased vibrance (+26)

The next stop was the HSL tab. Given that the colours are important to this image I spent quite a time on these settings, making adjustments to each of hue, saturation and luminance. I should emphasise that the settings I am sharing are what I ended up with and the numbers are pretty much irrelevant other than to give you a sense of the relative amount of adjustment I was making. The process was very much one of observation, trial and error to get to what I felt looked good and close to what my eyes saw at the moment of taking the picture. So, to HSL.

  • Hue – I pulled back the hue settings on each of:
    • orange (-29)
    • yellow (-27)
    • purple (-22)
    • magenta (-27)
  • Saturation – I made the following adjustments:
    • red (+4)
    • orange (+20)
    • yellow (+16)
    • purple (+29)
    • magenta (+20)
  • Luminance – I made the following adjustments:
    • orange (-11)
    • yellow (+24)
    • purple (+42)
    • magenta (+27)

Finally, I sharpened using the Detail tab. I tend to go carefully here and use the masking slider to make sure I only sharpen what I want. Here’s a tip – if you hold the Alt key while adjusting the masking slider it shows you exactly what will be sharpened (only the white areas). With that in mind here are the final settings under detail:

  • amount (59)
  • radius (1)
  • detail (25)
  • masking (92)
  • luminance (36)
  • detail (50)
  • contrast (11)

And that’s it. Please note though, that interesting though this might be every image is different and when editing you need to be the one making the decisions based on how you want the final image to look. My aim in sharing the above is only to give you a sense of what I adjusted and, relatively, by how much. In working on photos I never look at the number values of the adjustments, only at the visual effect of what I’m doing,

Generally my editing is much lighter than the treatment this image got and for the most part, the accumulation of small adjustments is what makes the biggest difference.

One to go back to

rock, beach, water, calm, sky, low tide, ripples

Rock, water, sky

It was low tide this morning when walking the dog along the beach so we went a little further than usual to where I know there are rocks and pools. This mini scene caught my eye and I was struck by the calmness of the water in this extensive but shallow pool left by the receding tide. Immediately I was thinking about a possible photographic composition but this was no more than something I might end up noting for the future – potentially one to go back to with the proper gear. All I has was my ‘phone but it’s invaluable for recording possible compositions.

This one needed a good focal point and I thought the seaweed covered rock offered a decent subject reflecting gently in the water. I felt this needed a low angle of attack so I walked into the water and crouched as low as I could to get the foreground filled with the pool and the include the sky where the cloud offered a nice “sandwich” effect with the bright horizon more or less central.

Given that this was a “scouting” shot” you might ask if it’s worth doing any processing on the phone image – yes, absolutely it is because, for me at least, it helps me see more of the potential of the composition and what I might look for in going back. Of course, anything I later do will be different, because the conditions will be different but, having gone through the full process, I have a much better idea of the possibilities.

So, I thought I would take you through the editing adjustments I made to get the final “scouting” shot above. First of all, here’s a before and after comparison to show how the image looked straight out of the phone compared to the final result:

rock, beach, water, calm, sky, low tide, ripples

before and after

All the editing was done in Lightroom and the comparison above is taken from the Lightroom Before/After function. The red area in the “before” shot is showing up as I keep highlight and shadow clipping switched on, so this is showing areas of sky that are blown out. So, where did I begin and what adjustments did I make to end up with the final “after” image?

First of all, and I pretty much always do this, is I made lens corrections and ticked to remove chromatic aberrations. After that I went into the basic menu in Lightroom and selected the auto tone option. I don’t always do this, but on this occasion I felt it would give me a decent baseline to work from. Working sequentially, I then did the following:

Exposure – dropped by about half a stop

Contrast – reduced slightly

Highlights – to deal with the blown-out area I used a brush adjustment to localise the effect only where I wanted it – in specific areas of sky

Shadows – slightly lightened

Whites – slightly lightened apart from the sky where, as part of the brush adjustment, I also dropped the whites slightly darkened

Blacks – were slightly darkened

Clarity – go carefully with this, but increased it slightly

Dehaze – as with clarity (both of these affect contrast)

Vibrance – slightly increased

I then made some colour channel adjustments, increasing the saturation of green while also adjusting it’s hue. This was to help make the rock stand out a little more as the key subject. I also made some slight adjustments to purple and magenta (hue and saturation) to bring about the effect I wanted in the sky and the sand below the water.

Finally I added a slight vignette to draw the eye towards the centre of the composition.

Having done all of that I feel this is one I might return to with the full gear even though I know it will inevitably be different. Rehearsing the whole process has encouraged me to think there is some potential here.

It also occurs to me that this shows there is much more to photography than just “taking a snap”.

 

I had no idea…

Well, it’s been a busy week with all manner of boring (but necessary) admin tasks to attend to and yesterday evening I realised I didn’t have a subject when I intended to write a blog post today. I decided, therefore, to take the initiative and head out with my camera and no clear idea as to what I would shoot.

Inspired by some shots my family had taken on a trip to Elie in the East Neuk of Fife, and  only a short drive from home, I set out for there to see what might be on offer photographically. As I prepared to leave, the dog was giving me “the look” which was enough to persuade me to take her along. If nothing else, the evening air would be good for both of us.

I parked up near the Fife Coastal Path and headed out towards Elie Ness Lighthouse. There was nothing really catching my attention there so I carried on round to Lady’s Tower, an old stone edifice built in 1760 apparently as a changing room for Lady Anstruther who liked to bathe in the shelter of the rocks just below. It’s said that a bell would be rung to warn the locals to stay away while she was bathing.

The evening sun was getting a little lower in the sky, casting a warm glow on the stone of the tower and the rocks below. I tried a few shots around the tower before setting up with ND filters to get some soft water effects as the sea washed over the rocks. At the time, I wasn’t all that convinced that I was getting shots I would be happy with, but opening them up in Lightroom and doing some editing got better results than I had expected. I was by that time, however, thinking that my blog post would be about a forlon trip when nothing really presented itself as a pleasing image that would be “a keeper”. And that happens – often. Just like fishermen, photographers come home with tales of the one that got away, or the one that actually never was.

I was preparing to settle for this just being a nice time out with the dog, taking some photos and enjoying the sea air on a pleasant summer evening – not a bad outcome – and was thinking about stopping by a bench to pack my camera away when I spotted this….

grasses in the sunset

sunset grasses

This is actually the last of three shots that I took of this scene. What immediately attracted me was the warm glow of the sun which was casting a more diffused light having been partially obscured by clouds. It was the beautiful golden light that was capturing my imagination.

Shot 1 – was very bog standard – wide, capturing the whole scene and very much the typical sunset type of photograph. It was my shot in the can, if you like; something to have that could probably be worked on a little in post.

Shot 2 – was cropped in a little, by zooming to a longer focal length and focused on the background. I felt that was a better composition. With landscapes, it’s easy to stay with the grand vista, but there is often great merit in homing in on a specific feature, or aspect of the scene.

Shot 3 – the one above. This time I decided to keep the same basic framing as shot 2 but this time to focus on the grasses in the foreground and throw the wider “grand vista” out of focus. I’m pleased with it as the grasses make for a good point of interest, provide a leading line and frame the highlight on the water.

All of the processing was done in Lightroom with the intention of using as light a touch as possible, which consisted of a slight warming of the colour temperature and some minimal and local highlight dampening.

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Be inspired and keep those shutters firing.

ATAC your photography

OK, who thought I had misspelled attack?

stream, burn, brook, nature, woodland, water

Scoonie Burn

Well, I do think it’s important to attack your photography, in the sense that we need to go at it with purpose and intent. In this instance though, I am using ATAC as an acronym for: Always Take A Camera.

I know, it’s kind of blatantly obvious: no camera means no photograph. But how often do we photographers go off somewhere, for some other reason, without a camera then see a composition or opportunity that we know we are missing? The photo above is a good example of ATAC in action.

I was simply setting out earlier this week to do the usual morning dog walk but decided on a whim to take a camera with me. I almost always have my phone with me and that has a camera on board, as do most these days, and it produces decent enough results in favourable conditions – but not all. There are times when only a “proper” camera will do and that’s really what I mean with ATAC, although if I added “proper” to that it would read as ATAPC and that just doesn’t work.

My inspiration for taking a camera with me was to have the opportunity to take some shots of the blossom in Letham Glen but as we walked up the glen, I was met with this scene above and was so pleased to have my DSLR with me, along with a Gorilla Pod which I could use for stability should I need a long exposure.

I really liked the scene of the Scoonie Burn meandering down through the trees and the little waterfalls add a nice element of interest. The soft green cast to the light gives a soothing feel to the image and comes from the morning light filtering gently through the fresh leaves of late spring.

I had some decisions to make with this one, while the dog waited rather impatiently. First of all there was quite a big differential in light between the highlights and shadows which was going to make choosing a good exposure quite tricky. Secondly, there was a decision to be made with the water – a slow shutter speed to soften the flow or something a little faster to retain detail? As I mentioned I had the option of using the Gorilla Pod, but wasn’t confident I could have enough secure stability with it to do multiple exposures and go for an HDR composite. The decided me to go hand-held and therefore to choose a fast enough shutter speed to avoid shake. I also wanted to have a decent depth of field so opted to shoot at around f10. To ensure a lack of shake I opted for a shutter speed of 1/50sec as my focal length was around 45mm (the rough rule of thumb is to choose a shutter speed at least as “fast” as the focal length, so with 50 being greater than 45 I felt secure). So, I set the camera on manual but moved the ISO to automatic and the camera then chose ISO-6400 for the “correct” exposure. Now, try doing all of that with your phone camera.

To get to the final image, I had to do some work in Lightroom to reduce the grain a little which I did by using the detail tool (sharpening). I also used a brush to reduce some highlights in key places rather than affecting the whole image.

I’m pleased with the final result of this and I thought it made for a good example of the benefits of ATAC.

Now, you might be wondering if I got any shots of the blossom I mentioned earlier. I certainly did – but that will be the subject of another blog.

Stay on the ATAC now!