Friday, 14 November 2014

Six quick tips for taking better photos in dull weather

This time of year can both awesome and awful as far as landscape photography goes. On one hand you’ve got the amazing autumn colour that can make the most ordinary scene become something incredible, whilst in some parts of the world snow is almost a guarantee, bringing it’s own brand of landscape-transforming properties. Unfortunately, once the leaves have fallen off the trees and until the first snowflakes make an appearance, the weather can be uninspiring to say the least – murky, misty, wet fields can make your images seem pretty manky (hey an alliteration!)

It’s quite easy during November to February to be a tad depressed as a landscaper, especially if you’re craving dramatic lighting and assuming you’re not lucky enough to be in the right place when storm clouds roll in or you just don’t happen to get any notable sunrises/sunsets to speak of, the temptation might be to stay indoors and go into photo ‘hibernation’ until spring shows up. This is a shame though, since there are definitely photo opportunities to be had on those murky days if you know what to look for and how to make the most of the lighting you’re presented with. Some of the tricks you can employ to get around the uninspiring lighting are pretty obvious when you think about it (though so often we find we haven’t thought about it, which is kind of amusing!) Here are some of those simple techniques…

1.       Cut out the sky:

Probably the most obvious one (I thought this was a good place to begin) is to consider your framing carefully – which focal length is the best under your restricting conditions? What crop ratio works best? On those occasions where you’re shooting in a wide open space and your sky is that dreary washed-out white that you often find on misty/drizzly days, the last thing you want to do is include a huge area of it in your photos by using an ultra-wide lens. In these cases zooming in a bit tighter than you usually might will cut out all but a sliver of mind-numbing white sky and will help balance your shot, so there aren’t large expanses of distracting empty space. Try using a middle range ‘standard’ focal length of between 30mm and 50mm as this will be inclusive without over doing it as far as empty space goes.

Secondly, you might try cropping at the post processing stage, the advantage of this being that you get to choose your composition whilst looking at a much larger image than the one on the back of your camera, allowing multiple possibilities from each shot you take. Be mindful of the extent of your cropping however; remember that cropping means deleting pixels, so unless you’re working on a raw file in Lightroom etc. where you can revert to the original image, be sure to watch the resolution of your photo. Try a long format like 16:9 for starters or even 6x12 or 6x17 if you have pixels to spare, all of which will limit the amount of visible sky.


       2.       Use a hard grad filter:

In many cases a soft ND grad filter is enough to hold back detail in your sky, but on dull days, where contrast is low and lighting flat (i.e. boring) you want drama. A 3-stop hard grad (aka. ND8/O.9 ND) will darken an otherwise bright white mess from top to horizon, allowing cloud detail to show through. As always when using a hard-edged filter, look out for objects breaking your horizon line as these will be artificially darkened and look ugly. One thing you might want to consider is applying a grad filter virtually in Photoshop and using this to add a little colour at the same time. The problem with simply darkening a dull sky is that it’s still dull, just…well….darker! Injecting a subtle tint that matches the tone of your scene (i.e. cool hues if you’re shooting a snowy scene) can bring your shot to life. Do this using the Graduated Filter in ACR or Lightroom or applying a colour gradient in mainstream Photoshop.

3.       Think outside the box:

The extreme side of ‘enhancing’ the sky might be to replace it completely using layers in Photoshop, but in doing so you’d have to be ultra-careful to choose a replacement that fits well with the lighting you have in the scene. In many cases we’re talking about very flat ambient lighting and so this severely limits your options for possible skies to swap in. A far easier option and arguably more “honest” if you’re of the opinion that Photoshopping = cheating (which I don’t by the way) is to think more creatively about how you use the conditions at hand. Instead of trying to take in the whole landscape, pick out the details which you feel best sum up your location and focus in on those. Dull, overcast lighting might not be great for wide landscapes, but it’s a dream for enhancing colour saturation and creating soft, subtle shadows. For the shot you see here I simply chose to use the cloudy sky as a gigantic softbox and use the diffused light to make an evenly-lit study of this seaweed. This way I turned the less-than-ideal conditions into an asset and came away with shots that wouldn’t have been possible under summer lighting.

4.       Think outside the box part 2:

The other option might be to use a bright, featureless sky as a feature itself. Instead of trying every trick under the (non-existent) sun, approach things from the opposite direction and think about how you can use your lighting effectively. Position yourself down close to the ground and try shooting flowers/plants using the sky as your backdrop. If your subject is brightly coloured or very dark, the contrast with the white sky will create a very graphic look and almost appear to have been shot under studio lighting. Try using positive exposure compensation to ensure the background is totally blown-out to maximize this high key style.

5.       Go for the extremes – don’t sit in the middle

When we’re presented with a scene containing subtle tones, like a misty landscape, you have to decide if you want to attempt to counteract conditions by creating a ‘false atmosphere’ i.e. using Photoshop to adjust the atmosphere to how you’d like it to be, or work to enhance the ambient conditions. Don’t do both at the same time! Let’s say you’re shooting a woodland scene like the one shown here. There’s mist in the air and it’s clear this will make a good subject. The important thing to note is it’s the low key, low contrast lighting that is the baseline for this whole image, so make sure you don’t obliterate it by bumping up the contrast or saturation at the editing stage, as it’s so often tempting to do. Attempt this and you’ve got a slightly misty-looking image, with colours far more saturated than we’d expect in real life: in essence the worst of both worlds! Go for one look or the other, don’t combine them. Not here…

6.       Go abstract

Lastly, if you want to spice things up a bit, try using long exposures to add movement and energy to a lifeless landscape. Winter is actually the perfect time for long exposure photography as the short days mean longer periods of low light, whilst dull, overcast days allow you to use extended shutter speeds in the middle of the day and without seeing bright ‘hotspots’ from dappled sunlight- an exposure nightmare. Even if it’s drizzly, this won’t show up in a 20 second exposure, whilst 30 seconds or more can hide any slight camera movement induced by irritating winds (as seen in the shot of Bamburgh Castle on a wet, stormy morning.)

So there you have it folks, 6 quick tips for squeezing images out of dull, grey wintery days. Just remember the basics: always dress appropriately for low temperatures, keep an eye on the weather if shooting in remote highland/exposed locations and if you venture off, let someone know where you are. Oh and look after your gear too- take a rain sleeve and allow your kit to come to temperature on your return home, to avoid moisture damaging the electronics of your cameras and lenses.

If you have any questions feel free to drop me a line on here or visit my website, twitter or Google+

Hope you like this and if you did don’t forget to share it!
Happy shooting this winter!

Peter x

Oh and don't forget to check out ShutterLogic Magazine Issue 1. It's full of handy tips on how to think about your photographs and adjust your attitude to make better images. Just hit the button on the top right of this blog, go to or follow this LINK

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Monday, 3 November 2014

The compact rules once more...

I've lost track of how many times I hear someone mention that It's the photographer, not the camera, that makes the image. I think people have got a little overly used to hearing this too and it's a saying that might be in danger of loosing it's impact. However you'll have to excuse me for preaching this once again!

Without my tiny compact camera I'd have missed more shots as cool as this

This week my 17-85mm lens packed in: aperture flex ribbon problem - something that EF-S lenses seem to be plagued with. My heart sank as I've got quite a bit of travelling coming up and the 17-85 is on my must-have list for going away. I have since got the lens repaired (for a reasonable fee of £45 from APM Camera repairs in Newcastle) but during the week or so I was without it the North of England was blessed with some pretty awesome sunsets/rises, some of which were more spectacular than I've seen before (typical!) Since the 17-85 is also my go-to lens for shooting autumn woodland scenes I was fairly hacked to put it mildly. My 10-20 is too wide for everyday use and the 70-200 too long (plus about 1.5kg too heavy.)

As such my G12 was abused considerably. As usual it was a case of me treating the little gem like a measure of last resort, which considering I'm surprised by the quality it can spit out time after time, is unfair...and it put me in my place once again.

Over the last 10 days, the majority of my shots were made on the G12 and I've been more than happy with it taking over the role of my main workhorse camera. In fact it's not too much to say that I might even have produced some of my favourite images to date!

I guess the message here is (wait for it...) it's your mind that matters, not the camera you have in your hands. All it takes is a little faith and a willingness to drop your obsession with absolute quality: sure there is a bit more grain than I'm used to with my 7D and the slower burst rate meant I needed to rely on a surface in order to shoot images that overlap for exposure blending, but instead of thinking of your compact or even your smartphone as the "inferior camera you're stuck with" just use it as your camera..! You're a photographer, so go and make pictures using whatever means you can.

Once again the G12 showed up my "gear freak" tendencies and surpassed my expectations.

Have a good one folks and hope you're enjoying autumn as much as me! :)

Saturday, 1 November 2014

ShutterLogic Issue 1 is here!

I'm very proud to present the first issue of Shutter\Logic, a brand new free online photography magazine of which I'm now editor!

Here's how we describe it's philosophy:

"So many magazines discuss the ins and outs of HOW photographers made an image. ShutterLogic is all about WHY…

 The magazine explores the mind of photographers to explain the motivation behind the picture. If we can better understand what we were thinking when we made an image, we can better understand why it was a success (and therefore repeat this) or why it didn’t work out so well, so as to try things differently next time…
  SL is a brand new, quarterly online publication with a focus on our attitudes towards the world of photography, both positive and negative, and how these influence the photos we take, how we take them and the gear we choose to create them.     
   Featuring awesome photography from all the key genres, we hope ShutterLogic will inspire creativity, boost confidence and above all encourage you to reassess the way you think about the  art of crafting light…  "

Read the magazine here:
and remember to visit our site at:

also follow us on Twitter:

I hope you like what you see. Don't forget to spread the word and help us build a community!

Many thanks,

Peter  x

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

See my images in 2015 Calendars

If you were hoping that title meant you'll find images of me in print, I'm no pin-up guy, so curb your excitement ;)

However if you are living in the North East my work is featured in two calendars, both produced by Carousel Calendars for next year. I'm Mr May in both and Mr November in one. I have to say I really rate Carousel for their design and quality; the prints are very well produced and certainly do justice to the effort put in by their photographers. The links are found below...

North East A4 calendar

Tyne and Wear A4 calendar

I finally finished my Biology degree so hopefully I'll have more blogging time available. Sorry again for the huge gaps. I'll make more of an effort!

That's all she wrote for today.

Have a good one

P x

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 :)