Tuesday, 27 August 2013

My top 10 tips for awesome autumn images!

Last year I outlined my favourite techniques for capturing autumnal landscapes. Since that time of year is nearly upon us again I thought I'd pass on a few reminders...

Like most landscape photographers I would imagine, I love being out and about enjoying fantastic autumnal colours and the endless picture opportunities they offer. Last year was a particularly colourful one and I hoping for an equally impressive display of seasonal hues in the next few months.
       Whilst I’m no pro I thought it might be quite nice to put together a list of what I think to be the best ways of getting great autumn shots, making sure we get the most out of what nature is offering us. Below are my ‘Top Ten’ techniques for creating images to be proud of- get out and use them before all the leaves are gone and/or keep this page in your favourites until next year!
10) Try showing movement: I feel a little mean sticking this right down at number 10 as it can really be a great trick for producing abstract images with an extra ‘something’, but it may not be to everyone’s taste so here it is! Try using a slower shutter speed to introduce some movement into your shots. Since you’ll more than likely find yourself shooting trees, using a slower shutter value will show up any movement in the branches caused by wind. An exposure of around 1/30th sec will give you a slight blur to the leaves (depending on wind strength) while 1 sec or more and you can get some really abstract streaks of colour. This works if you haven’t got anything interesting in the scene before you to make you’re subject- focus solely on those autumn hues! 

 9) Shoot on dull days: A way of making use of whatever light you happen to be faced with. Whilst it’s lovely to have nice beams of strong autumn sunlight streaming into your shot, shooting on an overcast day, with the low contrast, can be a fantastic route to saturated colours. If the sky seems uninspiring, focus on the little details and shoot some leaves in close-up. Try adding a burst of flash to create a little contrast and a bit of sparkle to your subject.  




8) Shoot at dawn or dusk: the key to any great landscape photo, if not a little limiting on the number if images you are able to produce through the season (not everyone has time to do this often). If you have the opportunity, shooting at these times will give you those rich golds, reds and browns along with a dreamy glow, all caused by the directional light of the low sun. I love to photograph back-lit leaves at these times, which will give intense colour and great detail of the leaf structure. If you can make dawn or dusk, try early(ish) morning (on your way to work/school/university etc.) or late afternoon. That’s the brilliant thing about this time of year- the light is good for most of the day, with dawn fairly late and sunset early. Try combining this with no. 7…
7) Shoot into the light: aiming your camera into the sun gives amazing back and rim-lighting effects and doing this helps you get the most out of the directional light in no. 8 above. Obviously don’t look at the sun in your viewfinder (spare a thought for your eyes) or leave the lens pointing at it for too long (this can burn your shutter.) These sort of go without saying. Oh and watch out for flare- invest in a skylight or UV filter, pronto.

6) Use a warm-up filter: either on your lens or when in the digital dark room. These do what they say on the box- give your image a warmer tone, which works great with the already warm colours of the season. In Photoshop go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Photo Filter and select one of the warming filters. I usually use the 81 or 85 filters.
5) Even better than that- use your White Balance to get it right in-camera: this is one area where you don’t want to rely on your camera’s auto WB as all those reds and yellows will get it totally confused and you won’t get the look you’re after. Use the ‘Shade’ or ‘Cloudy’ presets depending on how warm you want your image to be. This is works well as it complements the naturally low kelvin values of autumn scenes. If you’re shooting film you’ll have to resort to no. 6.

4) Underexpose: I’m not getting into the on-going debate about whether in digital photography it’s better to under- or overexpose, because in this case it is absolutely a nice idea to under expose slightly, as this will give you nice saturated colours (as well as prevent blown-out highlights.) Don’t go crazy; try starting with -1/3 EV using your exposure compensation control (in P, Av and Tv modes) and working from there.
3) Without doubt, use a polarizer: Ok so we’re onto the top 3. Firstly you definitely want to be using a circular polarizing filter to reduce glare on leaves and give your precious colours a lift. This filter is a no-brainer for landscape photographers and should be in everyone’s kit bag; this case is no exception. Oh and it will cut the light entering your camera by about 2 stops, allowing you to blur water and branches with longer exposures, which is no bad thing as long as you have a good tripod.

2) Know your location: in at number 2 we have something I truly believe in- know the good spots from which to shoot. If you have a good idea of what might make some good autumnal photos before the colour shows itself you’re in for a better chance of getting the pics you want. Preparation is everything. Those stunning colours aren’t around for long so plan your images and get them while you can!

1) DON’T JUST MAKE THE COLOUR THE SUBJECT! : I think this merits 1st place- avoid the shots all the ‘happy snappers’ out there are getting and don’t make the sole focus of your image the autumnal colours themselves. A brightly coloured tree doesn't necessarily make a good photo in its own right. It might of course but there are likely to be other possibilities. Look for something, anything to photograph in the colourful surroundings. Even if it’s a little stream, or a person walking into the shot to show scale, or an animal interacting with the environment. Anything. It’s easy to get carried away with all that colour and start snapping at everything, but get a clear idea of what you want in your mind and I can guarantee you images with impact! [Unless you’re a dog or an octopus or a fungus, in which case you probably won’t be able to hold the camera properly or indeed understand anything I’ve written here. Hey life’s difficult, get over it… : )]

I’d like to hear if you have any comments on the above list: do you agree with my ‘Top Ten’? Contact me by commenting here, or by leaving a message on my website, Flickr page, or 500px site (see right for the links.)

Happy shooting this autumn!
Peter  x


Sunday, 25 August 2013

Thinking small...

I’m just not even going to comment on the inactivity of this blog this time. I’ll just say I’ve been busy and leave it at that! Sorry…

When shooting landscapes it’s very easy to be tempted by the ‘big picture’ and miss the little details. Recently I’ve been making a conscious effort to home in on the smaller elements of the scenes I’m shooting in the hope of creating a more intimate view of my local landscapes. I’ve visited the Mediterranean twice this year, once to Crete and once to Malta (images will show up eventually!) and as beautiful as these places were it made me want to spend more time finding what it is about the places closer to home that I really love. It’s quite amusing really; when you haven’t been abroad for a while and you’ve been flicking through a few travel photography magazines you can find yourself feeling frustrated with the photo opportunities you have available to you at home. Then when you jet off to somewhere exotic you’re still frustrated with landscape back home because you realise how much potential it has, but for some reason you haven’t been able to make the most of it! I really love the British coastline and want to show this in my images. So we’re ‘thinking small’ for two reasons now; 1) we’re forgetting the temptation to travel abroad to find inspiration, concentrating on what we have at home, because we’ve realised how impressive it is and 2) we’re looking closer at the landscape to find what makes it impressive to us, in the hope of portraying an intimate picture to people from other places. Looking for the little details…

Recently I was shooting the coastline at Whitburn, Tyne and Wear. This about 15 or so miles from my home in Chester-le-Street yet to be honest it is a totally foreign landscape; I hadn’t been until about a month ago! It was another of those “how did I miss this?” moments because I was genuinely impressed with the shape of the tide-worn geology. The first visit consisted mostly of ‘sketching’ with my Powershot G12; exploring the possibilities without lugging all of my gear around with me. As luck would have it though the light on this day was far better than the two subsequent visits. When I finally took my ‘proper’ gear with me it was very overcast and the land looked very flat. Rather than being disheartened though I chose to focus closely on the luminescent green seaweed that I’d previously noticed coating the rocks on the shoreline. I love the way the seaweed seems to flow over the rock like the water that sculpted it and left it that way on the previous tide. After a few minutes of wandering I found the line of rocks you see in the images here.


I didn’t place them like that; the scene was all arranged by the sea. The placement was perfect and just screamed to be photographed. It took me a while to find a composition I liked but I think I’m happy with the end results. If the sun had been out, managing the exposures would have been far trickier and the light wouldn’t have been as soft and flattering. I think shots like these are quite literally portraits of a landscape and the overcast sky in this case provided our softbox quality light.




Images such as this are about what you leave out of the frame and for me this set tells a far better story about the location than if I’d taken a series of wider views. You don’t always need dramatic lighting because you don’t always need to create an epic picture; delicate and understated are qualities just as admirable; another reason to ‘think small.’     

Let’s leave it there because I’m starting to get philosophical and when that happens people tend to fall asleep! I like looking for little details (I’ve even created a new gallery on my website under the name.) Travelling abroad is great fun but sometimes it’s nice to think about what makes home, home, what you love about it and to communicate these through images…

Have a good week,
Peter :)

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Ultimate challenge of the week: survive without a computer!

My laptop died this week. HDD problem apparently. Luckily, I'm obsessed with backing things up, as many photographers are, I imagine, so I didn't really lose anything of importance, but the whole thing has got me thinking (which is an irregular occurrence.) Are we all too reliant on technology?

This isn't a new argument of course but I'm not talking about the threat of having the country's accumulated wealth deleted or the unsettling thought that we're often driven 40 thousand feet into the air by a piece of software. I'm talking about us, people, in our daily lives and how almost everything we do these days revolves around a collection of circuits - and more importantly how we're held ransom when those circuits decide to burn out!

I can't believe how lost I feel without my laptop. I realised that practically my entire life has come to a stand still for the simple reason that virtually everything I do is…well...virtual! My uni work, my photographic projects and assignments, my music, my connection to friends, all is accessed and controlled my digital companion.

Now I of all people appreciate the advantages today's technology brings; I can't imagine a world without Photoshop, even though I know photographers coped just fine without it for over a century, but I wonder if life was somehow more simple back then. After all the laws of chemistry don't change - if something didn't go right in the darkroom and an image was ruined there was only a limited set of possible reasons why, one of the major ones being human error. In 2013 however we're working with far more complex equipment and a passing knowledge of how it functions probably won't help you very much; I for one use IT every day but can't say I'm an expert in every aspect of how it works. I suspect most people aren't, which is why we, in this 'Golden Age' of hyper complex systems are unable to carry out even some of the most basic tasks when it all goes !*%$ up!

Furthermore (I could go on about this all day) stuff these days has remarkably limited longevity with technology becoming obsolete in a matter of months. Actually I think it's rather amusing how we react when faced with older gadgets that at one time we thought were awesome but now realise are nothing better than paper-weights! I'll provide you with a suitably relevant example; I'm writing this on my old laptop from about 6 or 7 years ago. It's not-so-quietly chugging away in the background and seemingly every time I hit a key it emits an alarming whirr. When we bought it for me to do my GCSE work on it was perfectly suitable, but now I've got to tell you it's a heap of junk! Seriously when we went to pick it up at PC World the shop assistant swung the deal by promising us a "free, complimentary sack of coal" whilst the wealthy gentleman beside us, purchasing the latest and up-to-date model had to wait for his 'purple-shirt' to nip out to the warehouse to fetch his bike and dynamo.

Anyway I think I've made my point so I'll stop there. It's been a knackering day of photography with me shooting quite literally from dawn to dusk. I started out with a couple of hours back up on Waldridge Fell and slowly but surely made my way to Lumley Castle and the woods behind. I can no longer feel my extremities but I think the images made it worthwhile, although I can't be sure and won't be until next week when I get my laptop back!

No really I must stop: this old clanger of a machine is running low on solid fuel...and I left the shovel out in the snow!

See ya :)     

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Photo BTS Tuesday!


This post is basically my way of escaping revision! I'm sat in my room (where I've been for what seems like days...without leaving) surrounded by lecture notes. Luckily for you (depending on how lucky you feel about reading a random blog post) my general disinterest in aquatic vertebrate respiratory systems has brought you another Photo BTS.



I took this image a little while back at Trow Point, South Shields on the North East Coast. The shot was made a short while after the sun came up, which gave that lovely soft and wrapping light along with the tell tale vibrant colours of dawn. I was really attracted to the light on the water this morning, especially in the shallows right at the water's edge. One thing I love about this bay is the textured rocks that vary in size and form and look great through the mistiness of moving waves.

Framing this image took some thought as I felt placing the horizon directly on a third lent a slightly unbalanced feeling to the picture; it gave me a fairly blank and distracting area of blue sky at the very top of the frame and I lost some foreground interest in the yellow rock. I opted to lower the camera slightly, putting the horizon a little more towards the centre

 As seems to be the way with my “golden hour” shoots, something was bound to go wrong. Everything was going swimmingly (not literally I’m thankful to say) until a random group of school lads turned up out of nowhere and began hurling rocks at each other on the platform. We’re talking 6am here people, most 14 year olds would I had presumed have still been in bed, rationing every blissful second of unconsciousness before a day at school (it was a Monday If I remember) and yet here they were, quite happily dodging missiles right where I didn’t want them; in the middle of my viewfinder… I managed to grab a few shots in between feigned screams of pain (hence the image you see here) and then with as little subtlety as I could possible I moved forward to the waterline and waited for either a sharp blow to the back of the head with one of those wonderfully textured rocks or for them to get the message. Thankfully they got the message!

Post processing

Very little was done to this image in Photoshop. I manually merged 2 of the bracketed exposures to increase detail in the highlights and worked on the foreground almost entirely in Camera Raw. Firstly I used ACR’s Grad Filter tool to brighten the foreground rocks by around half a stop and then used the Adjustment Brush to add some localised contrast and clarity. As with all my images the first step was to add an automatic camera/lens profile within ACR. This made the raw file look far better in a single click. I also added some slight sharpening, utilizing a high value on the Masking slider to avoid bringing out noise in the flat tones such as the surface of the water.

To merge the exposures I simply opened both images in Photoshop, copying the ‘sky’ file on top of the exposure for the foreground (Ctrl (Command for Mac) + A and then Ctrl + V) I then used the Quick Selection Tool to select the sky and headed to the ‘Refine Edge’ control, where I checked the ‘Smart Radius’ box and moved the slider to around 3 pixels. This gave me a smoother blend of the two images. Adding a layer mask immediately ‘masked-in’ the foreground image and that was it; I had a merge of the sky exposure and the brighter file for the ground.  I guess I could have tone mapped the files but didn’t feel HDR would give me the look I was after in this case; I wanted something more subtle.
 
So there you are – a quick lesson in manual image blending and how to avoid being stoned to death by feral children at dawn. Afterwards they just sat down and watched the sun rise, which considering their chavvy nature seemed a little out of character to me!  Awww….
Check back next time J
See ya  

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Photo BTS Sunday!!


This blog has been criminally neglected of late, for which I apologise profusely. In an effort to keep things active here I’m going to try a new approach, in the shape of Photo BTS (behind-the-scenes) post. These will (hopefully) be posted at least weekly and will just be a quick walk through of the story behind on of my images; what the conditions were like, what challenges there were and any silly little anecdotes that seem appropriate at the time. I’m not saying that’s all I’ll post from now one but it’s something that should keep the cobwebs at bay J

So here’s the first of the series. This image was shot only a couple of weeks ago in the Lake District, near Ullswater. The hill is actually known as Round How and forms one of the shores of Ullswater itself. I was standing in a field near the entrance to the path leading to the waterfall Aira Force, which is the main thing we’d come to see. I took some images in this direction on the way in but none were exceptionally awe inspiring. After visiting the waterfall however, when we passed the same spot I noticed that the light was significantly warmer and that there was a slight mist hanging over the valley. Since the plan was to head home (we had a long drive ahead!) I didn’t really have much time to set everything up again and so had to commit to the cringe-worthy task of resting the camera on a wall, which was far from stable. I had my tripod with me but it had walked off along with a family member and was already half way back to the car! I shot a quick series of images, varying the focal length as I went. I immediately knew that the tree in the foreground had to be part of the composition and by using the long end of my 17-85mm zoom (which works out as 136mm in 35mm terms) perspective was compressed slightly which firmly placed that tree into the scene, providing a sense of depth. The rain clouds were rolling in which gave that biblical sky and the mist picked up the colour of the light, bathing the landscape in a golden glow. The painful thing was I could foresee things getting even more dramatic in the following 30 minutes or so, by which time I knew I’d be back in the car and driving away from it all! However, after about 10 minutes the light started to fade and that rain became the dominant feature of the scene, which acted as a strong motivation to pack up and move on.

I had my camera set to Cloudy White Balance but when reviewing them later the colours didn’t seem as warm as I remembered them so I increased Colour temperature in Camera Raw and added a little Magenta using the Tint slider.

This shot was more about luck than careful planning. Where possible I love to be able to plan everything before a shoot, but I think that’s more to do with peace of mind; sometimes a scene just presents itself and you have to work quickly to catch ‘the moment.’ Looking at this picture you’d think the light was a gift from heaven but it was actually very short-lived and we barely made it to the car without getting soaked. As always say, the Lakes isn’t the Lakes for nothing…all that water had to come from somewhere!

Camera: Canon EOS 7D

Lens: 17-85mm

Filters:  Polarizer, ND Grad

 

Ok so there you have it, the first Photo BTS (which, I admit, does sound a little like a fungal infection) and hopefully I’ll keep on track and rack out a few more over the next little while.

 
Stay tuned J   


Tuesday, 28 August 2012

My recent publications

Sorry for yet another absence but things have been sort of hectic! My aim is to get a few more posts rolled out before I head back to Uni so lets just keep our fingers crossed :)

If you want to read more about my photography I've been featured in a couple of publications this month. Firstly several of my images have featured in Amateur Photographer Magazine this week (wk beginning 25.08.2012) where I gained the Editor's Choice in the Reader Spotlight pages. This is the third time I've been in the Spotlight so it's nice see my shots there again.

Also I've written a short landscape photography masterclass for North East Life Magazine (http://northeast.greatbritishlife.co.uk) in their September issue. Here I just cover the basics from composition and lighting to recommended camera settings and selected, freely available software. If you're new to photography and live in or around the NE of England, you might want to pick up a copy. You also get to see a wonderful mug-shot of me looking like death itself on an early morning coastal shoot!

So yeah, I'll truly make an effort to put some Time aside for the sole purpose of blogging ")

Peter

Monday, 2 July 2012

Heyy...I'm still alive! (from Scotland)


Ok so first of all I’d like to apologise for my absence of late; I’ve just been crazy busy with just about everything! I’m pretty sure I promised a post about my Farne Islands visit about two years ago but I will get there eventually (even though nobody cares now…including me)

Anyway, I’m away from home at the moment (I’m currently sat writing this in a small cottage about a stone’s throw from the England/ Scotland Border.) I’m staring out of my bedroom window at a wonderful, beautiful, wet, stunningly secluded, miserable, relaxing, depressing view of our private garden and wishing either the weather would improve, or the world would just go ahead and end as it’s been promising to do for weeks! 

I’m determined not to let the rain and wind (and lighting and flooding and mudslides!) stop my picture-taking however; I think it’ll be good practise to shoot in less-than-ideal conditions…damn my optimistic nature J I did manage to grab some nice (warm) shots the other evening when there was a dusk to speak of, so at least I got them in the bag early on (see below.)





I’m certainly not travelling light though; the relative closeness to home provided too many gear temptations and I can’t think of anything I’ve left behind! I’ve got both EOS digital bodies with me (my 450D and 7D) as well as my 10-20, 17-85, 70-200, 50 and 35-70mm lenses, plus a flash, radio triggers etc. and I’m hauling it all around in my Lowepro Vertex 200AW. I’m hoping to go back to the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens before we head home and we’re here ‘till Saturday so hopefully I’ll come back with some “Keepers.”

I’ll keep you all posted when possible…J   
Peter x