Tag Archives: photography

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.

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Being discrete

a game of pool - table corner with side lighting

Pool

How do you preserve confidentiality and tell a compelling story? This photo is my answer to that question in a very specific context.

Recently I have been working on a set of photographs for the Levenmouth Foodbank which will be used in a new brochure they are producing. One of the challenges of this project was to illustrate aspects of the work of the Foodbank whilst preserving the confidentially of those who use it. It’s important to be able to tell a story through these kind of images which, for me, fall into the genre of documentary.

Why the need for discretion? It’s probably well known that people who use foodbanks are not doing so through choice but because they have fallen on hard times financially, perhaps temporarily, or perhaps more long term. There is a natural stigma about this and, for the most part, no-one forced to use a foodbank would wish to be recognised as doing so. The trustees and volunteers at the foodbank, quite rightly, also wanted to protect the identity of their clients.

One of the surprising things for me was to find that there is so much more going on at a foodbank than handing out food. I can’t be sure if this applies to all of them, but the Levenmouth Foodbank also runs a café where clients can come in and get a cup of tea or coffee, a hot filled roll and biscuits or, occasionally, some cake. It’s also a social time when clients can meet with each other and chat with Foodbank Volunteers who can guide them with things like budgeting, job seeking etc.

During a shoot at the café I was attracted to the pool table where clients can have a relaxing game with one another or, typically, challenge a volunteer to a game. I wanted to be able to capture this and illustrate the importance of human interaction in a supportive way. I also had to be discrete.

I knew this would need to be a tightly focused shot (and I’m not talking depth of field here) closing in on the detail rather than going wide. The set up for this was pretty simple. I set up my light source (one speed light mounted on a light stand bounced into an umbrella) to the side of the table. I used a wireless trigger to allow me to roam around the table looking for compositions that would work.

The single light source allowed me to create a clear focal point for the image and the shadow cast by the player on the left emphasises the light on the table. I like that the eye is drawn to the action on the table and the cue of the player on the left provides a nice leading line into the composition. It’s obvious that there are two players here and, in the background, there is also one spectator clearly visible. Immediately, there is a sense of what’s going on here without having to reveal any faces.

One of the bonuses for me is that I feel the depth of foreground shadow helps to accentuate the action and perhaps this gives a sense that out of the darkness of despair, there is always the hope of light and better things to come.

 

A personal project

Here we are behind the scenes at an outdoor photo shot for a personal project which I intend will result in a set of themed images. A little more on that later, let me first tell you about the planning and the shoot.

It’s easy to think of photography as just pointing a camera at a subject and taking a photo. Of course, if you’ve done more serious photography you know about the need to compose the shot, decide on your camera settings, desired depth of field and all that stuff. When it comes to realising an idea the amount of time behind the camera becomes such a small part of the whole process.

For a while I have been thinking about a concept for a series of images. At the moment I have no idea how many that might stretch to as it all depends on how creative I can be in exploring and illustrating the theme. A few months ago I had one very definite image I wanted to create and that was the driver for this photo shoot. I was clear in my own mind what I wanted to express in the image, how the composition would look, where it should be shot and what the general look of the image would be. To make that happen, I needed several things to come together:

  • some assistance
  • a couple of models
  • the right props – a card table, two chairs, a deck of cards, the relevant costumes a picture frame
  • and not least, a low or receding tide coinciding with either sunrise or sunset

This took weeks of planning through the summer and I realised that August was probably going to be the prime time to get the shot. During the planning, I developed another couple of ideas on the same theme, which meant that I could aim to create three or four images out of the one shoot.

While negotiating with friends, aiming to persuade them to help/model for me, I set about looking at tide charts and comparing those with times for sunrise and sunset to find the optimum dates on which to get the shoot done. A narrow window of opportunity appeared and a shoot time was set for 8pm on Tuesday 9 August. Sunset was due at 9pm and the tide would be receding, leaving me the wet sand I was looking for.

After a very dry summer, the days leading up the shoot were overcast and wet – it was entirely possible that the shoot would need to be abandoned if the weather didn’t improve. On the day of the shoot, the morning was wet and windy but the forecast showed this passing with sunny intervals appearing from around 7pm and, thankfully, the forecast was right.

So we set out a tarpaulin on the beach (sand and salty water are no friends to photographic equipment) in order to keep all the important things as well protected as possible.

And now, I am warmly sat before my computer doing the post-shoot editing and processing. This is definitely going to take longer that the shoot, but hopefully I will end up with some inspiring themed images which will be available as fine art prints.

The theme, I will tell you, is an exploration of the concept of absence. Perhaps my next blog post will be something about the creative process for this and maybe something on the editing work – what would you like? Please let me know by leaving a comment, or feel free to ask a question and I’ll do my best to pick those up in a future post.

Meantime I am grateful to my friend, Abbie Nelson, for the behind the scenes photos (above) and for helping me in bringing the shoot to reality.

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”.

 

The importance of story

I am currently working on a project to provide photographs for a website redesign. One of the challenges is that I can’t identify people within the photographs unless I have their written permission. Normally that’s fine and permissions can be obtained. But one aspect of what I needed to shoot required absolute confidentiality, for good reason.

One of the areas I needed to cover is a Foodbank. For many people the Foodbank is a genuine life saver  but it’s something no-one really wants to have to rely on and there’s a potential embarrassment in being known to use a Foodbank. When I turned up I was given a tour and explanation of what happens when people come in need of the help that’s available. They are generally referred and will have a voucher to use the Foodbank. They are met and gently welcomed by volunteers who appreciate how difficult this might be for the beneficiary. First off, they have a chat with a volunteer over a coffee and usually some biscuits. Here the Foodbank volunteer tries to create a friendly and compassionate conversation which allows them to do some of the necessary things such as checking for food allergies and dietary intolerances etc. Generally though, the beneficiaries just need to talk with someone friendly, have their story heard and be taken seriously.

This was what I felt I needed to capture in a photo and, especially when you can’t show faces, story becomes really important. So, while this shot was carefully set up, I think it manages to tell the story – of course, the context in which it finally sits will help and hopefully will inform the photo as much as the photo informs the context.

a confidential meeting over a coffee and biscuits

meeting in confidence

I entitled this photo “meeting in confidence” as the meeting is both confidential and one of it’s aims is to give the beneficiary confidence.

Foodbanks are run by The Trussell Trust and do a brilliant job. The project I am working on is not for The Trussell Trust but the Foodbank in question is directly related to it.

 

Refreshing, inspiring and prompting thought

Clouds part to reveal the Mont Blanc Massif

Mont Blanc Massif

This image is available to buy from my website as a fine art print. Perhaps at this point I should be clear that if you buy a print, it will not have my signature watermark so it is a clean image.

There are differing opinions about what constitutes a fine art photograph and this is largely due to the fact that there is no universally agreed definition. Fine art photography seems to cover a wide range of subject matter and can almost be seen as anything that isn’t otherwise categorised, such as: photojournalism, science photography, portraiture etc. A broad consensus seems to lie around the idea that a fine art photograph is more generally about the vision of the photographer and their creative input to produce an image they have preconceived in some way. Personally, I think there’s more subtlety to it than that. Any time I take a photograph, be it documentary, portrait, product or anything else, I am always thinking about how I want the final image to look and I think that’s true for most, if not all, serious photographers.

Taking all of that as read, I believe that fine art images are those that refresh, inspire and prompt us to think. They are images that communicate and hold an inherent beauty in the eye of the beholder. Essentially they are images you would want to hang on your wall and look at, and the image above, of the Mont Blanc Massif emerging from parting cloud, hangs on my wall at home.

I took this photograph a few years ago when visiting Chamonix. There is an element of serendipity about it as I happened to be in just the right place at just the right time to capture the drifting clouds revealing the mountains beyond. To get to the image above, though, I needed to do some work in Lightroom to create the mood and atmosphere I remembered at the time I fired the shutter.

I appreciate that we don’t all buy images on a regular basis but if this photograph refreshes and inspires you to thought, then next time you are looking for a picture to hang on the wall, why not remember this one and maybe also look at the others I have available.

Thank you.

 

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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