Tag Archives: photography

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.

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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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Changing your point of view

When you are prepared to change your point of view, things sometimes just look better.

“Better”, of course, is subjective and what I think is better, someone else might not. The point, photographically, is that it’s always worth scouting around a subject and not just accepting the first view offered. To illustrate this, here’s an example.

Recently my wife and I were exploring the East Neuk of Fife and we had parked by the harbour in Anstruther. As we walked towards neighbouring Cellardyke we were faced by this intriguing sculpture virtually on the border between the two towns and giving a clear indication of their fishing tradition.

sculpture of fish, nets and boats

A fishing heritage

This photo was taken exactly in the direction we were facing as we approached. My concern at the time was to try to frame the shot so that the fish were nicely contrasted against the white wall of the house behind. Fair enough, but at the time I thought, “pretty standard stuff”. It shows context and is maybe the kind of shot that would make it into a brochure advertising the area.

I didn’t find it all that satisfying at the time, and thought there must be something different to be had here. As you can perhaps detect from the picture, the light was from behind and left. This was evening and the sun was going down.

I’m generally on the look out for different views and perspectives (seeing the familiar differently) so I did what now comes fairly naturally and walked round the sculpture to see what other views had to offer. And that led to this:

sculpture of fish, nets and boats in close-up

fishing heritage

Now, I find this much more creatively and artistically satisfying. This was taken from the other side of the sculpture, looking back towards where the previous one was shot from. Now we are shooting much more into the light and creating more contrast. I decided to get in close and fill the frame with the fish and net. The lamp posts in the background are enough to indicate that this is outside and I deliberately chose a wide aperture here to minimise depth of field and throw them out of focus. In post, I was tempted to emphasise the contrast and go for a black and white finish,  but I like the subtle colour in the evening sky and, when you look, there are also subtle hues to be picked up on the sculpture. I thought it was worth preserving those and adding to the interest.

So there we have it. Changing your point of view when photographing a subject can radically alter how you portray it. I said at the start that when you do this things sometimes just look better. Well, I have my preference, but what do you think? I’d be fascinated to see some comments.

Of course, much depends on what you are shooting the image for – there’s my caveat.

 

 

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!