Tag Archives: location

I couldn’t leave empty-handed

The trouble with landscape photography is getting just the right conditions which  requires both planning and patience. Sometimes though, there just isn’t enough time left for the conditions to improve so you need to improvise a little or leave empty-handed.

recumbent stone circle

Tomnaverie Stone Circle

It was a grey, heavily overcast, drizzly evening when I visited Tomnaverie Stone Circle near Tarland in Aberdeenshire. The light was heavily diffused and refusing to do anything remotely interesting, making everything boring and flat when I’d hoped for the better conditions that had been forecast. My plan had been to build a composition that included the stone circle as a foreground with Lochnagar in the background. On this occasion, however, Lochnagar was not even visible in the low cloud. As I don’t like to leave empty-handed I scouted around for some other shooting opportunities.

By way of context, Tomnaverie is what’s called a recumbent stone circle as it features a large stone lying flat which is flanked by a pair of uprights. This type of stone circle is peculiar to north-east Scotland and typically the recumbent stone is on the south/south-west of the circle. The obvious shot would be to feature the recumbent stone, but as I walked round the circle my eye was taken by the cloud hanging low over a distant hilltop. I thought it might make for a dramatic scene with the low cloud cover leading over the stone circle towards the hill and the setting sun was casting some light into the scene. The difficulty in getting this shot was always going to be the exposure. I needed to feature the clouds but not lose the foreground of the stones and there was just too much of a difference in exposure between the sky and the land. What this was going to need was an HDR composite.

If you’re not sure what HDR is, it simply stands for High Dynamic Range and is achieved by shooting the same scene at different exposure settings, then blending them in post to achieve an HDR composite in which all elements are correctly exposed. It’s getting closer to how the eye sees the scene and the wonder of our eyesight is that it compensates beautifully (and automatically) for different brightnesses; something cameras just can’t do. There are some key points to keep in mind when shooting for an HDR:

  • use a good sturdy tripod. It’s so important that the camera doesn’t move at all between shots
  • settle on the aperture setting and ISO you want and only alter the shutter speed from shot to shot. This means you keep the depth of field and grain (“noise” for you digital freaks) consistent
  • use either a cable release or the short timer on camera to minimise any other source of shake

I opted for an ISO of 100 (to minimise grain) and an aperture of f11. Here are the three different exposures I took from which I created the final HDR image.

Using Lightroom, I first made lens corrections for each image then selecting all three asked Lightroom to merge them into an HDR. That’s an automated process and it does a pretty good job, but it still needed some more work to get the final kind of effect I was looking for. I made a slight cropping adjustment to change the format to 16×9 which I felt was more suited to the composition. I also applied a gradient filter to make some fine tuning adjustments to the cloudscape.

In the final image (top) the recumbent stone with the twin uprights can be seen in the middle-ground just left of centre.

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A location product shoot

I thought it might be interesting to write about a little product shoot I did earlier this week which was done on location in The Lemon Tree cafe in Leven.

There are  pros and cons in doing a location shoot. Probably the biggest downside is not having use of a studio and therefore full control of the lighting. The upside, however, is that as this is food product, it was all prepared fresh and looked at it’s best.

So here’s a look at the basic set-up I used (which I shot on my phone)

camera and lighting set-up

set-up

I asked to use a table at the feature window as it would provide good diffused light to flood the various subjects. This was especially effective as the sun was at around 90 degrees to the window which meant no direct light and the harsh shadows that would come with it. I then used two artificial light sources. As can be seen in the set up above, I used a tripod mounted flash with a soft box. I balanced this with a small continuous LED which is hiding behind the camera. The LED was mounted on a Gorilla Pod for ease and flexibility of positioning.

As you an see, the flash was triggered via a cabled connection to the camera hot shoe. As there were three different light sources working together, I set the camera white balance to auto with the intention of adjusting this in post if necessary. In the end it only needed a very small adjustment.

I opted for aperture priority on the camera and set the flash to manual operation. Using a couple of test shots to get the lighting I wanted, I made adjustments to the flash output, shooting at a reduced power. The soft box was to make sure I had a diffused light which was not overpowering the background natural daylight. The LED has three output settings and, again, the test shots allowed me to find the optimum balance of light between the LED and the flash.

I shot at f8 which is pretty much around the sweet spot of the lens I was using. I wanted to have a nice sharp focus exactly where I chose and with just enough depth of field. To keep things nice and steady I used a cable release for the camera – it’s sensible when you go to the bother of using a tripod. If you don’t have a cable release, the next best option is to use a two second delay on the shutter release.

By now, you might be wondering how the shots turned out. Well, here’s one with the same subject as in the set up above:

cafe sandwich

Lemon chicken sandwich

What you might spot here is that the LED became a principal light – note the shadow from the salad – with natural daylight providing the background flood with reduced power flash filling shadows and picking out highlights.

Post production was mostly done in Lightroom. As I wanted to have a consistent feel across all the images, I created a pre-set out of the settings I used on the first one I processed and used that as a basis for all the others, requiring only minimal adjustments in each case, I know you can sharpen in Lightroom and I generally do so preferring to use heavy masking to make sure I only sharpen what I want to. On this occasion though, I sharpened the images in Photoshop using a High Pass set to 5 pixels.

If you are curious about the LED, as you can’t see it in the set-up shot above, here it is as mounted on my Gorilla Pod.

small fill light

LED light

And finally, I should say that the Lemon Chicken sandwich was delicious. If you ever find yourself in Leven, make a point of visiting The Lemon Tree. The cakes are also amazing!

You can see some of the other product shots and more here on my website.