Tag Archives: photography

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!

Seeing the familiar differently

This is a tag-line I sometimes use in connection with my photography so I thought it might be interesting to share an example of how that finds expression.

A couple of days ago I set out to do two things at the same time – yes, I was feeling ambitious. My plan was to take the dog for a walk and also to photograph some of the  rhododendron collection at Balbirnie Park near Markinch in Fife. So, off I went with dog, camera bag, tripod and the rather essential poo bags.

I had no preconceived ideas about how I would photograph the rhododendrons but as always, wanted to stay open for possibilities.

In the interest of getting something “in the can” a fired off a few fairly traditional  shots such as this one.

Rhododendron Collection

Rhododendrons

Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but it’s just like so many other shots we’ve probably all seen of rhododendrons and other flowering shrubs and trees. There’s nothing here that would make this stand out from the crowd – it’s an example of seeing the familiar familiarly.

I went in search of something different and took some tight shots of the blossom but, again, it had a familiarity about it. As I wandered the pathways I became aware of one that branched off from the denoted path but still looked like one that was established. It led down through the trees and as I explored this I was met with the attractive sight of red rhododendron blossom lying on the ground and lit through the surrounding trees by shafts of daylight. This was a shot I felt I should have.

Fallen rhododendron blossom

Rhododendron blossom

In terms of photographing rhododendrons, this would probably not sit on it’s own, but rather within a wider set. What I like is that it is suggestive of the rhododendron and the fallen blossom is a reminder that the season in bloom is a short one. It is also, I think, a good example of seeing the familiar differently.

For me, it’s important to keep my eyes open and be ready to see things from different angles and perspectives. This is where we can find those images and compositions that stand out from the crowd.

Seizing the moment

fallen tree - patterns and colours

Deadwood

This is one of those opportunistic shots. I was out walking the dog when I passed a fallen tree and was immediately struck with the lines, patterns and colours in the bark of this dead wood.

I was armed only with my iPhone but wanted to capture this image. The more I look at it, the more I am drawn in to it and the more I see. It simply intrigues me and makes me think that even in decay there is beauty.

I shot it in a square format as my original thought was to post it on Instagram, which I have done, but I also wanted to say something about it, hence this blog post.

There’s a lesson here about always being interested in one’s surroundings as sometimes compositions or images just make themselves available to you. This is one such example of seizing the moment. And it really doesn’t matter all that much if you don’t have your “proper” camera with you – the photographer is more important – though a camera of some sort is still essential!

I like this one so much, I’ve added to my website so it’s available as a print. So, if you fancy having this on your wall, feel free to go and place an order.

 

A journey worth going on

I think it’s generally a good idea in life not to get stuck in the same old routine and to always remain curious. That’s the essence behind this image.

Drilling rig

a telescope effect

It’s certainly not the best photo I’ve ever taken and it won’t be going into any competitions or exhibitions, but I though this was something worth sharing as a focal point.

This photo came into being as a result of curiosity and experimentation. I’m probably not the first  person to have tried this but I’d never seen any examples I could think of, so I decided to go with it once the idea had formed in my mind. I had taken the dog for an evening walk along the beach and given that it was a nice clear evening I took the binoculars out of the car to have a good look around. There are a couple of old (I presume) drilling rigs out in the Firth of Forth and I was looking at this one when I idly wondered if it was possible to use my binoculars as a hacked zoom lens for my iPhone. Well, it turned out that it is possible and the result is not as terrible as I thought it might be.

I have to admit this was all very ham-fisted as everything was hand-held; binoculars in one hand, iPhone in the other. It was then a very tricky process to line up the phone lens with one eyepiece of the binoculars and refine the positioning to achieve anything like a steady and reasonably clear image. Once I had got that, I then had the challenge of touching the phone screen to tell it where to focus and then, without losing the composition, I had to finally trigger the shutter. All of this was very difficult as the slightest movement lost the alignment and therefore the image. That’s the reason the horizon is not straight in the final image above. I decided not to make any adjustments to that as I wanted to show this as near to the reality as possible. This has had minimal processing in Lightroom, making slight adjustments to colour balance, contrast and adding in some dehaze which seemed to return a better result here than adding clarity.

As I say, this is not an image I’d do anything with but, as the result of an idle experiment, it turned out better than I thought it might. The reason I am sharing this is to encourage you to experiment with your photography – some experiments will work and maybe lead to new areas of creativity; others will not work at all, but I’d say that every experiment borne of curiosity is a journey worth going on.

 

The journey to the image

The journey to a final image has barely begun when the shutter is fired. There’s still work to be done in getting to the composition that the eye has seen and the imagination has worked with. I thought it might be worthwhile looking at that journey again with another example.

Unretouched view towards Edinburgh

Unretouched view across the Forth to Edinburgh

This is the original unretouched shot as it came out of the camera as a RAW file. I pretty much always shoot RAW so that I have the maximum data to work with in post. This was shot in the evening as dusk was falling. I shot it hand-held at 1/40 sec, ISO-200 at f/8. The reason I’m sharing those settings is that I want to explain how I was trying to find the right compromise to get a workable image. The available light was fading quite quickly as dusk fell and there was a natural haze to the light looking out across the water. I was using a focal length of 55mm so normally, to minimise camera shake, I’d want to use a shutter speed of at least 1/60 sec (the general rule of thumb is to sue a shutter speed at least as fast as the focal length – ie shooting at 30mm choose a shutter speed of at least 1/30 sec).  I was therefore shooting just a little slower than I ideally wanted and took the risk of minimal blurring from camera shake – but I thought I’d manage to be steady enough at 1/40 sec. I could have opted to widen the aperture to get a faster speed, but I wanted to have a reasonable depth of field for a landscape shot, so didn’t want to come lower than f/8. Then there was the question of ISO. I wanted to minimise grain (noise, if you prefer) so opted for ISO-200. I think I was pretty much pushing the boundaries here.

The initial RAW image (above) is rather washed-out and not as clear as it looked to the eye. My job in post was to try to get as close as possible to what I saw without making it look too heavy-handed. I did all the processing in Lightroom to end up with this:

Edinburgh from Fife

Across the Forth to Edinburgh

That’s much closer to how I saw the sky and the landscape of Edinburgh and the Pentland Hills. So, how did I get to this? Here’s a brief run down of the editing. First of all (and this is standard to my workflow) I made adjustments to the Lens Corrections and ticked to remove chromatic aberrations. I cooled the colour temperature just slightly to bring through some more of the natural blue tone. Then I added some dehaze, and clarity, trying not to overdo it. As both of those essentially affect contrast, I left the master contrast control alone. I also boosted the vibrance a little to enhance the colours and then made slight adjustments to the saturation of purple and aqua. That pretty much got me to where I wanted to be with it. Then, just to deal with the sky, I added a graduated filter and darkened it slightly. I wasn’t entirely happy with the landscape across the centre, so used a brush to add a little more dehaze to that central strand.

I envisaged this as amore cinematic shot, so cropped to a 16×9 ratio slightly recomposing to drop the horizon below the centre line. Finally, I added a slight vignette to help draw the eye in to the composition.

That, then, is how I went from the original shot to the final image. Is this a keeper? Probably not. If I go pixel-peeping, I can see some evidence of slight blurring which is probably the result of hand-holding at 1/40 sec. This wouldn’t really stand up to printing in any large scale, so I’ll put it down to a useful experiment. If I wanted to make something of this composition, I’d need to go back and re-shoot it using a tripod. Of course, whilst I could go back at the same time to the same location, the light won’t be the same and I will never be able to exactly reproduce this image. Such are the joys…